The Old Remington: The Complete Story

This is the whole twenty-part serial, in one long story. It is for those of you who prefer to read it as a complete work. A long read, of 26,570 words.

Martin had always wanted to write a novel. He imagined his name on the cover, and thought ‘Martin Harwood’ would look good, especially after the words ‘The new bestseller from…’.

He had a solid idea for the story too. It would be about the frustrations of a forty-something man from the big city, a man whose life hadn’t quite worked out as he planned it. More or less his own story of course, but he would change the name of the main character, that was a given. Still, there were a few obstacles to overcome. For one thing, he didn’t own a computer. He had thought about typing the whole thing onto his mobile phone, but he soon gave up on that plan. He could save up and buy a computer, perhaps even a second-hand one, but he had been out of work for so long, cash was tight. Besides, he had always imagined himself clattering away on a typewriter, like real writers used to. Cold coffee in a mug by his side, and an ashtray filled to overflowing with cigarette butts at his elbow. That was another problem. Martin didn’t smoke.

Anything to get out of the flat, he had taken to wandering aimlessly around the back streets of the run down district he now called home. He did it at the same time every day, usually just as the street market traders were packing away, and less people crowded the narrow alleyways. It was good to have some routine in your day, a reason to get washed and dressed. He crossed over to head home, past the small shops that stayed open after the market closed. Something made him stop outside the window of one of them. It was an old typewriter, standing in its zip-up case. Nice and neat; a portable with a cream-coloured metal frame, the keys shining as if they had never struck a sheet of paper. He felt drawn into the cluttered shop, finding himself surrounded by ancient cameras, telescopes on stands, and binoculars hanging by their straps, from hooks in the ceiling.

Everything he had seen so far led him to expect the appearance of some elderly, shabby man behind the counter. But when the curtains leading to the room behind parted, he was surprised to be greeted by a very smart man, in an immaculate three-piece suit. His hair was slicked back, and he wore a fresh flower in the buttonhole of the jacket. Martin looked him up and down. To say this character was out of place in such a shop was an understatement. “What can I help you with sir?” The voice sounded younger than the man speaking, and the accent was European, perhaps Dutch. “The portable typewriter in the window, could I look at it please?” Martin tried to sound disinterested, no need to let the bloke think he was too keen. The shopkeeper moved to the window, his action smooth, as if gliding on ice. “Ah you have a good eye, sir, if I may say so. That’s a classic, the Remington Ten Forty, the writer’s friend”. As he handed it to Martin, he winked, as if they were sharing a secret.

It was surprisingly heavy, for such a small machine. Martin thought it might even be designed for a child, but everything was there. He pressed down on the space bar, watching the carriage move smoothly until a sharp ‘ding’ sounded the end of its travel. He unfolded the carriage return, and slid it back. It was as smooth as the shopkeeper’s walk, like it was running over oil. Even the keys looked untouched. Black letters on a cream background, not a wear or smudge visible. The man gave him some time, waiting patiently as Martin zipped up the case, and lifted the whole thing by the carrying handle. “The ribbon is new, and I will include a spare. You can still buy them of course, but if you have any trouble, just come and see me”. He was talking as if Martin had already bought the thing, and the price hadn’t been mentioned once.

Trying to use some haggling psychology, Martin put it back on the counter. “Do you have any others I can look at? I’m about to start work on my new book, and may need something more substantial”. The man grinned, enjoying the game. “Sadly not, sir. But I assure you this is all you need. Some of the greatest works of literature have been written on machines just like this one”. Martin hoped he would mention a price, but he didn’t, leaving him to begin. “So how much are you asking for it then?” Moving a hand to rest under his chin, the man stared at the typewriter for a ridiculously long time. “I couldn’t let it go for less than forty, I really couldn’t”. Martin fought hard to conceal his surprise. He had expected it to be twice that, but he wasn’t about to just agree to the first price. He nodded pointlessly for a moment, before countering. “I was thinking more like twenty-five. It’s old, but hardly an antique”. The reply came back so quickly, it made Martin jump. “Say thirty, and we have a deal”. With that, the man extended a hand, and they shook on it.

“I have to go to the cash machine in Rolt Street, is that OK?” Martin hoped the man wouldn’t suddenly pretend to have another customer for it. “Of course sir, I will be here waiting”. The balance on the cash machine showed he had less than a hundred in the current account. That would mean transferring some of his fast-diminishing savings next week. He took the three ten pound notes from the drawer of the machine, and hurried back to the shop. He was surprised to see the man standing in the doorway, the typewriter zipped up in its case, ready to go. Martin handed over the cash, and received another huge grin. “Good luck with the book, sir”. With that, he shut the door and turned the sign behind the glass to ‘Sorry, we are closed”‘.

Martin got all the way back to his front door, before he realised he hadn’t asked for a receipt.

When he unzipped the case and placed the typewriter onto the small table in the corner, Martin was pleased to see the spare ribbon had been placed inside by the shopkeeper. He had lived up to his word. Connecting his mobile phone to the Internet, he looked up some online tutorials about changing typewriter ribbons, and was happy that he would be able to manage it, when the time came. It suddenly dawned on him that he had forgotten to buy any suitable paper, and certainly didn’t have anything in the flat. Oh, well, he would search some out tomorrow, and start by making some more notes in his exercise book for now, fleshing out the existing outline of the novel.

The next morning, he put off going out to the shops as long as possible. When he saw that there was no milk, he had his coffee black. The toilet roll was empty too, so he used some tissues from an old travel pack. Although he wouldn’t admit it, he knew that once he went out, he would have to buy some paper, and that would mean actually having to start his book. Something at the back of his mind niggled him about doing that, and he had the strangest feelings of butterflies in his belly. Not good butterflies either. More like moths. But instant coffee without milk was awful to drink, so just after lunchtime, he got ready and went off to the local High Street.

The Office Supply Shop was very expensive, so Martin decided to walk further, to the supermarket. They had copier paper on offer, buy two, get one free. He went for that, and bought a small set of clear plastic sleeves too. It would be nice to keep each chapter in one as they were completed. He got the milk while he was there, and a microwave meal for later. Spotting some wine reduced by a fair margin, he got two bottles of that too. Walking home feeling the weight of his shopping bags, he smiled to himself at the presumption that he would need those plastic sleeves for chapters that were not even in his imagination as yet.

All that afternoon, he couldn’t bring himself to open the paper. He thought of various reasons to delay the inevitable. Catching up with the news on TV, putting in a load of washing, and even tidying up the tiny kitchen area. But after eating most of the tasteless shepherd’s pie, and finishing his second glass of wine, he walked over to the table carrying one of the fat packets of paper, and finally gave in. Once the first sheet of paper was in the roller, and carefully lined up, he consulted the notebook. The working title had been ‘Nash Logan: A Man On The Edge’. But the name didn’t seem right now. After all, who was really called Nash? This character was intended to be the star of a long-running series, so the name had to be right. He jotted down a lot more names in the book. None of them seemed right to him, and the sheet of brilliant white paper remained undisturbed for over two hours.

By the time he was opening the second bottle of wine, Martin had cracked it. He had the title, and the change of name worked well too. He hit the shift key, and typed the first two lines.
‘Sam Logan: The Reckoning’.
By Martin Harwood.

No need for a pen name, he wanted everyone to know who had written it. When it hit the best-seller charts, there would be a lot of red faces around. Checking some very old notes at the front of the exercise book, Martin began to type in earnest, fired by a new enthusiasm, and the wonderful sound of the mechanical keys as he typed. He sat back and went over the first paragraph, stupidly pleased with how well it had turned out.

‘Sam Logan woke up slowly, shrugging off the hangover from last night’s session. Good whisky was never as bad as the cheap stuff, and as he stretched across the luxurious leather sofa, he smiled at the fact he hadn’t even taken off his expensive Italian loafers. Sam was going to have a good day, he just knew it. But the most days were good, for someone like Sam’.

Martin read it a dozen times. He liked it a lot, and felt it set the mood for more to come. In his excitement, he had missed a few spaces, but that was easily rectified. On the third correction, he folded his arms, and nodded in satisfaction. Finally, he was a writer. And a bloody good one too, if he said so himself. But he was surprisingly tired, which might have had something to do with almost finishing that second bottle of wine. He left the sheet of paper in the typewriter, and decided to have an early night.

Sleep just wouldn’t come. After almost half an hour of pointless tossing and turning, Martin felt himself drawn back to the typewriter in the corner of the living room. He made some coffee in his largest mug, and switched on the side lamp so he could see the page clearly. He decided to carry on by laying out Sam Logan’s back story. This time, the typing was much easier. The keys sounded like a machine-gun on the paper, and he didn’t make a single mistake.

‘Sam was a man who didn’t suffer fools gladly. Success came more naturally to him than friendship or relationships. From those early days as a salesman and market trader, he never once doubted that the big time was just around the corner. A quick mind, ruthless personality, and rugged good looks all combined to ease him though life like a hot knife through butter. Not that he didn’t work hard for it. It was just that to him, work wasn’t hard. He used people without conscience, and treated women as little more than baubles to decorate his daily life. Like the shiny things his Mum would hang on the tree, at Christmas.

Martin read through that paragraph. He loved it, exactly how he wanted to portray the hero of his novel. Admittedly, it did sound a lot like the start of his own life, but writing what you know was a solid start to a career as a novelist. And the name was changed, so it didn’t matter if some people picked up on it being based on his own experiences. He could always deny it was. Smiling, he thought how used he was to denial. It had got him through some sticky situations over the years. He patted the Remington gently, as you would a small dog. He was loving that old typewriter, and pleased that he had wandered down that street earlier.

Inordinately pleased with the progress so far, Martin was finally able to get back to bed.

He slept like a baby.

Martin was dreaming about church bells. It took his brain some time to work out that it was the chimes of his doorbell, sounding behind the front door. As he wasn’t expecting any parcels, and never got any visitors, he turned over in bed, and waited for it to stop. But it didn’t. If only his landlord had bothered to install one of those entryphone systems, he could have picked up the handset and just shouted “Go Away!”. Eventually, he had no alternative but to roll out of bed, and go down and answer the door.

As he was only wearing boxer shorts, he peered around the frame keeping a firm hold on the door, just in case. The woman outside was smartly dressed, very attractive, and probably a good ten years younger than him, he estimated. Perhaps she was lost, was all he could think of. “Martin, let me in, we have to talk”. That voice was vaguely familiar. Real London, but not rough. Not well-spoken either. It was a vaguely familiar voice, but he couldn’t place the face. “Sorry, you are?” It was hard to maintain any dignity wearing your underpants, as well as a morning-face that looked like it needed ironing, and hair sticking up like a cockatoo’s feathers. But he did his best.

She shook her head, exasperated. “It’s me, for God’s sake. Pamela. Open the door”. Realisation swept over him, like the chilly surf off a beach in Cornwall. It served to wake him up too. “How did you find me?” He kept the door half-closed. “Believe me, it wasn’t easy. Are you going to let me in or what?” He pulled the door open, not bothering to excuse his attire, or being undressed at close to eleven in the morning. Pamela brushed past him, and started up the stairs. Despite the strange situation, Martin couldn’t help but look up her skirt, and an admiring grin spread across his face, as she gained a few steps ahead of him. In his dingy flat, he showed no sign of feeling uncomfortable about the mess. Pamela stood stiffly, looking around. To her, it seemed as if someone much older lived there. An old man’s flat. He stepped into the bedroom without excusing himself, and returned wearing a dressing gown, one pocket all but ripped off.

The old Martin took charge. “Well Pam, long time no see, as they say. You’re looking gorgeous, a sight for sore eyes. So, to what do I owe the pleasure of your visit? Would you like a coffee?” He extended an arm to the small armchair, the only seat in the room not covered by paperwork, or clothing in need of a wash. She perched awkwardly, not wanting to sully her clothes on the greasy furniture. “No coffee for me, thank you. I have something to tell you, and knowing you, you’re not going to like it”. Martin leaned against the wobbly breakfast bar, arms folded, and adopting what he thought of as his George Clooney grin. “Well then, pray tell, lovely lady”. Pam took a deep breath, wondering what she had ever seen in that man, and how the stupid way he talked had once sounded so charming to her.

Pamela Murray had worked at the same stockbroker’s office as Martin. She had been a clerk-typist, and he had been one of the players, some said the best. He was at the top of his game, and was unlikely to ever notice the young woman who sometimes walked in with documents that needed to be signed. She thought he was lovely, so well dressed, always immaculate, and with that funny way of talking, like people in old films. She was not much past twenty, and he was a gorgeous thirty-something. But she had been wrong. He had noticed her, but wasn’t about to let on. He asked about her around the office, Single, living with her parents, one of the quiet ones. Perfect.

On the first of December, he suddenly appeared at her desk. All smiles. “Pamela, isn’t it? I was wondering, are you going to the Christmas Party on the sixteenth? Should be good, and the best bit is that the firm pays for everything”. He sat on the corner of her desk, peering over to blatantly look down the top of her dress. She watched him doing it, and found she didn’t mind at all. “Oh yes, I will be there. I have been looking forward to it all year” It was a half-truth, as she previously had no intention of going. But now Martin had shown such an obvious interest, she had changed her mind completely. He was a real catch.

The party hadn’t gone how she had expected. Martin waved to her from another table as she walked in with Moira, the office supervisor. But he hadn’t come over to talk to her, and she had been stuck next to Moira all evening. Wearing a paper hat, and nibbling turkey, she had tried to stop herself constantly looking over to his table, but failed. They seemed to be having all the fun over there, guffawing with laughter, and ordering countless bottles of champagne. After leaving most of an incredibly dry mince pie, she decided to call it a night, and stood up, taking her coat from the back of the chair. Seemed like the hold-up stockings, and a new dress costing over a hundred pounds, had both failed to work. He was there by the door as she struggled with the coat. “Don’t tell me you’re leaving, beautiful lady? No, no, no. Pas du tout. We are going on, as they say in social circles. The night is yet young, my dear girl. Here, take my arm”. He swept her out of the restaurant, flamboyantly flagging down a passing taxi. Ten minutes later, they were enjoying champagne in an exclusive nightclub. Everyone seemed to know Martin, and he kept introducing her as ‘The Divine Fenella’, winking at her every time.

When he suggested a nightcap at his luxury flat on the riverside, she wasn’t about to say no. He was everything she thought he would be. The perfect lover, strong, attentive, exciting. Much later, almost morning, he escorted her to the taxi he had called to take her home. And it was paid for too, on his account. But the following Monday at work, he walked past her as if he didn’t know who she was. Leaving her smiling stupidly in the corridor, as he pressed the button for the lift. After that, he barely acknowledged her. Gossip around the office was that he was seeing the daughter of one of the partners, climbing up the ladder of success over the body of a willing posh girl. When she missed her period, she took the test with a sinking feeling inside. She knew it would be positive. And it was.

She looked across the room, despising the shabby man, and his stupid grin. Reaching into her shoulder bag, she produced a brown envelope. From inside, she took a large photograph of a young girl dressed in a school uniform. Martin shrugged. Pamela moved her arm so he could see the photo more clearly. “Her name is Daisy, and she’s almost ten now. My parents used to help me financially, but my Dad died three months ago, and now we can’t manage. I reckon it’s your turn to step up now. I haven’t asked you for a penny so far, but you are going to have to start paying up, or I will take you to court. And don’t even ask if she’s yours, I can request a DNA test through the lawyers if you want proof. Martin kept his cool. Waving an arm around the flat, he shook his head. “You can see my circumstances, Pamela dear. I fear you left it too late. You missed the boat, darling girl. I’m flat broke”. She stood up, placing the photo back in her bag, leaving the envelope on the arm of the chair. “As I expected. Court it is then”. She opened the door to leave, then turned, her face softening for a moment.

“I really liked you, you know. But you treated me like some sort of decoration, like one of those shiny baubles Mum hangs on the tree at Christmas”. With that, she walked out.

Martin didn’t bother to follow. Instead, he smirked, and spoke out loud. “Parting is such sweet sorrow, and all that…”. Suddenly, a thought made him stop. He literally ran over to the small table, and read the page still in the typewriter. He found the line that had jumped into his mind. ‘treated women as little more than baubles to decorate his daily life. Like the shiny things his Mum would hang on the tree, at Christmas’.

A shiver ran down his back, and he had to sit down.

Martin sat like someone in shock. Someone who had witnessed something unbelievable. An event that couldn’t properly be conveyed to anyone else in words, no matter how learned you might be. He had read that page again and again, replaying the short conversation with Pamela in his head, over and over. She had used the line from his novel. She had suddenly arrived at his home, after ten years during which their paths had never crossed. And it had happened the day after he had typed the page.

How had she found him? Even former close friends didn’t know where he was, let alone an office girl who had been a one-night stand he had completely forgotten about. She couldn’t have read the page. She had sat with her back to the table, and he had only left her alone for a moment, to grab his dressing gown. That must be it. She must have read those lines when he was in the bedroom, deciding to throw that comment in, just to give him the creeps. For a second, he relaxed. But he knew that wasn’t the real explanation. She had stood awkwardly in the room, and when he got back wearing the dressing gown, she hadn’t moved an inch. He had to face it, there was a more sinister explanation. Something beyond his understanding.

The day slipped by unnoticed, and the headache at the back of his neck started to develop into something awful. He threw down a couple of paracetamol, but that didn’t help. He couldn’t stop thinking, and with the thoughts, the pain grew in intensity. Suddenly noticing it was dark, he shook his head hard, and tried to pull himself together. It wasn’t as if he had been horrible to her. He certainly had’t forced himself on her, she was keen as mustard after the party, no mistake. He had been polite and caring with her too. The more he thought about that night, the clearer the details came back to him. He had arranged a taxi for her, on his account, and walked her out, to see her off safely. Fair enough, he put his hands up to what happened after that. Yes, he ignored her. Yes, he wasn’t really interested. They had their fun, and that was that. Had she expected more? An engagement ring perhaps? And so what if the child was his? Had she told him she was pregnant? No. Had she asked for money, or any help at all? No. The longer he went over it, the better he came out of the whole thing.

But why had she said that about the Christmas tree decorations? How could she have possibly known that he had just written that line the night before? And why now, with the threats of court action, and demands for money? He felt light headed, and realised he hadn’t had anything to eat or drink since he woke up. He made some coffee, and then ate a whole packet of digestive biscuits while drinking it. The caffeine and sugar rush was just what he needed, and helped him make up his mind to do something. It felt like a crazy thing to do, but what did he have to lose?

Inserting a fresh sheet of paper, he typed that first page all over again, word for word. Except when he got to that sentence. He changed it, to read differently.
‘He used most people without conscience, but when it came to women, he was always kind. Maybe he didn’t see them more than once, but they had a good time, and remembered him fondly.’

That didn’t really sum up Sam Logan’s character, but it removed all traces of the words ‘decoration’, ‘baubles’, and ‘Christmas tree’. Martin had to admit that even he thought it was lunacy, but he was nonetheless convinced that the alteration might change what had happened today. Unable to think about writing any more tonight, he sat down and watched some complete rubbish on TV, hoping to rest his brain from the taxing thoughts that had felt like gears grinding inside his skull. But once again he found himself drawn back to the typewriter. He added this line, carrying on from where he had stopped before. ‘Sam had even got a girl pregnant once, but she had been happy enough to carry his child, and even managed to get an old boyfriend to marry her, and adopt the kid.’ Martin mumbled to himself. “Let’s see what happens now”.

Deep down, he was angry with himself for giving in to the superstitious idea that any of this had something to do with the pages of the book. He hated typing those words about his main character. Sam Logan would never have worried about some girl he knocked up, and it would have been against everything he stood for to be kind and thoughtful to women. If this carried on, he would end up changing the whole direction of the book, as well as the personality of his hero. But despite that, he decided to try something else. Sitting quietly at the table, he clicked the paper up, and started a new paragraph.

‘Sam turned on his I-Pad, and checked his online banking. Things were looking good. £10,490 in the current account, and close to fifty grand in his easy access savings. And that didn’t include the money he had tied up in his share accounts, or what he had tucked away in someone else’s name. He thought he might treat himself to a luxury weekend away somewhere. Maybe one of those Spa Hotels, full of lonely rich women looking for some action from a stud like him. He opened the web browser, and started to surf some hotel websites.’

Martin liked the sound of that. If it was true that what he typed now happened the next day, then he should wake up tomorrow with a lot more money, and the prospect of a weekend away.

Sleep was hard to come by that night. Martin was too excited to settle down, and by the time he surrendered to tiredness, it was almost dawn. After less than two hours of deep slumber, he was woken up by the noise of the dustcarts shifting the bins outside. Rubbing his eyes, he jumped out of bed and headed for the living room, where his mobile phone was on charge. Still half-asleep, he connected the phone to the Internet, and signed in to his online banking. The sight of his available balance made him collapse onto the hard chair next to the table. £10,490. Changing the screen, he checked his easy access savings account, which had previously contained less than £300. His eyebrows raised so high at the amount, he felt they might slip under his hairline, and remain there. £48,880.

Inside his head, Martin heard the old saying ‘He couldn’t believe his eyes’. He now knew exactly what that meant. Scrolling through his contact list, he clicked on the number for phone banking. After pressing numerous numbered options, he finally got through to someone he could talk to. “Hello, Mr Harwood, this is Karen speaking, how may I help you today?” The accent was foreign, almost certainly Indian, and he doubted that Karen was her real name. But he was used to call-centres based abroad. “Yes, I was wondering if you could confirm the current balances in my accounts. I am not sure they are correct”. He was polite, calm, showing none of the excitement that was making his belly do somersaults. The pleasant girl repeated both figures. “And you are certain they are correct, and that those funds are available to be withdrawn?” She was completely professional. “Yes sir, I can confirm that for you. Is there anything else I can help you with today”. Martin hung up, forgetting to thank her, or say goodbye.

Placing the phone back on the table, Martin didn’t know how to feel. The impossible had happened, and the evidence was in his bank accounts. Yet he still couldn’t shake the feeling that it was some sort of trick. His suspicions overwhelmed the possibility that he could go to the bank and withdraw thousands of pounds. There had to be a catch, there always was a catch. Turning in the chair, he suddenly noticed something. On the old armchair where Pamela had been sitting, the large brown envelope had disappeared. She had left it behind, placing the photo directly into her bag as she departed. It had been there last night, he remembered catching it with his dressing gown as he walked past. Maybe it had fallen under the chair? He made a quick search, but had already guessed that he wouldn’t find it.

He had another thought, rushing into his mind like one of those trains that is not stopping at your platform. Picking up the phone, he checked to see it was still connected to the web, and signed into his Facebook account. Something he had used hourly at one time, but hadn’t looked at for almost a year. He entered a search for Pamela Murray. There were hundreds of them. He tried Daisy Murray, and got lots of those too. Checking the page of Harris-Coyle, his old firm, he found Moira. Christ, she was still there. He looked at her profile, and scrolled around her posts and contacts. It took a good thirty minutes of faffing around, but he eventually found a photo of Moira with Pamela. It looked like a domestic party in someone’s garden, a summer barbecue. Pamela was shown as Pamela Ryan, not Murray. More investigation into her own profile showed public photos of her with a smiling well-built man, and both of them with a small girl. Her husband, Steve Ryan, and their daughter, Daisy Ryan. After scrolling so fast it made him feel seasick, he found a photo with a big ’10’, in two helium balloons. Their tenth anniversary, last year.

Martin was on the verge of collapse now. Pamela had married some sap when she was pregnant with his child. They had a house on a crappy commuter estate in Essex, and Steve had his own business as a plasterer, a van was parked outside with his name on it. Daisy had his surname, and seemed to be acknowledged as his child. Pamela went to the gym a lot, and worked part-time in the office at the local primary school. Amazing what you can find out by spending some serious time on social media. One photo even had the name of their street, on a sign close to the house. If he had wanted to, he could have gone there and knocked on her door.
But he didn’t want to.

Coffee was needed. He carried the big mugful over to the table, and sat staring at the old Remington. Had Pamela even been there yesterday? Had it been a hallucination? Martin knew he wasn’t crazy, and he could still remember the smell of her perfume, and the clean clothes. The crease behind her knee, as he had looked up her skirt, and the glimpse of the reinforced top of her tights, when she got to the top of the stairs. No, she had been there alright. But he had written her out, in the process arranging a good life for her, and the child she had claimed was his. No point denying it, something amazing was happening, and he was going to embrace it. He finished the coffee, and went into the bathroom. After a long bath and a close shave with a new blade, he dressed in the cleanest shirt he could find, and put on one of the trendily-crumpled suits from back in the day. It was a little loose on him now, but at least the styles hadn’t changed that much.

The staff at the bank were friendly and polite. They didn’t seem to notice that he had next to nothing the day before, but was now drawing out two thousand pounds in twenties. A sultry-looking mature woman handed over the cash with a smile that was almost sly. She looked directly at him through the plastic screen. “Will there be anything else for you today, sir?” He wasn’t imagining it, she was definitely flirting. He checked the name badge above the swell of her large breasts. “Not today thank you, Vanessa, but definitely some other time”. She didn’t blush at all, and kept his gaze. “I will look forward to seeing you soon then”. He stepped out the bank with a pocket full of cash, and a spring in his step. As he turned in the direction of the street market, he laughed, and spoke out loud. “You’ve still got it, Martin old son”.

His next stop was the shop where he had bought the typewriter. He had decided to go back, and engage the shopkeeper in casual conversation. Perhaps ask for that receipt, as an excuse to drop in. He wanted to find out if that immaculate man had anything to say about the old Remington. To hear if he let anything slip about its history, or who might have owned it.

After weaving through the crowd in the market, keeping a close hold on his jacket in case someone dipped his cash, he crossed to the side where the shops were. The shop that had been full of things so recently was now closed up. The windows were painted black, and a large metal bar was fixed across the door, secured by a huge padlock. He got close to the glass, trying to see inside. But it was hopeless, as the black paint obscured the interior completely. The padlock was rusty, like it had never been opened, and there was thick dust on the metal bar too. He tried tapping on the glass, but got no reply. Then a voice made him jump. It was a man wearing an apron, with the name of the shoe repair and key-cutting shop next door embroidered on it. He was standing in the doorway of his shop, smoking a cigarette.

“Don’t bother mate. Nobody has rented that shop ever since I have been here. At least twenty years or more”.

Martin nodded at the shoe repair man, watching him flick the butt of his cigarette into the kerb. “Thanks”. No point arguing, or telling him that he had bought a typewriter there the other day. Despite the chill in his stomach, he had to accept that things changed beyond comprehension when he used the Remington. Pamela had been married, so had never come to his flat. He now had a lot of money, no questions asked about where it had come from. The shop where he had bought the machine hadn’t been trading for twenty years, so he had never been inside it. If he thought about it too long, he might end up in the madhouse. Best to go with the flow, and to hopefully make it work for him. Trying to make any sense of it was impossible, for any normal human being. But he felt a niggle of foreboding. He was going to have to be very careful. After all, he was all-too aware that things can change overnight.

When you have reached the top of the world, and then watched it all come crashing down around you, it tended to make you resentful at first. Blame anyone except yourself, defend your actions in your own mind. Refuse to take any responsibility. But over time, you had to deal with it, and face the demons. If you didn’t, you would surely end up sleeping in a shop doorway, and shouting incoherently at the sky. Martin certainly couldn’t complain, he knew that. From street trader to insurance salesman, on to being one of the most successful stockbrokers in the history of trading. No training, no contacts, just instinct. A ruthless streak and lack of conscience had seen him through, watching lesser men fall by the wayside. It all came easy. Money, women, reputation, prestige. A luxury flat, the latest, smartest car, and handmade suits from the best tailor.

He even got to marry the boss’s daughter. It was like one of those old Mills and Boon books his Mum loved to read. And his wife loved him too, with a passion. Chloe Harris could have had any eligible man she wanted, but she chose him. Those were the best times. Holidaying on huge motor yachts with the rich and famous. A weekend cottage in The Lake District, and a holiday home in Tuscany. Work very hard, play even harder. Travelling first class, drinking the finest wines, eating gourmet food. When they moved into a house in its own grounds near Totteridge, he kept on the riverside flat to use when they stayed late in town. A man of property, with a wealthy wife, and a wonderful future.

When he had first been approached by Nikolai, he had been very flattered. The Russian billionaire was the talk of the city. With his forty-million pound house in Kensington, and contacts in all the best places, including Buckingham Palace, so gossip had it. And he wanted Martin to manage his portfolio.

What is it about greed? Over the years, Martin had often wondered about that. He wasn’t religious, but concluded that if there was a God, and The Devil, then The Devil had invented greed to bring about the downfall of men with no character. And God was there to make you realise your mistakes too late.

It was all too easy. Just a bit of insider trading at first. Everyone did it, it was just a question of scale. He got to know about the deals Nikolai was into, long before they became public. Create some ghost accounts, speculate a little, see what happened. A lot happened, and very soon Martin was rich beyond his wildest dreams, most of the money spirited away to offshore accounts, buried and reburied in a succession of dummy shell companies, and dubious fronts. Then he heard about the big one. The Russian was planning to take over almost all the gas supplies in Europe. If he got those contracts and bought out the existing suppliers, the shares in his international corporation would treble overnight, if not more.

Stocks and shares are just gambling, after all. Players and brokers are just gamblers too. If they weren’t doing what they did, they would be playing roulette or poker, or betting on which raindrop would reach the windowsill first. This was the big one, the life-changer, so Martin didn’t hesitate to go all-in. He used everything in his own name, as well as all the savings he and Chloe had accrued. This would work, and they would never have to worry about money again, as long as they lived.

Just before the announcement, Nikolai returned to his native country to answer some charges about his tax dealings, and he was arrested. The Russkies threw the book at him. Tax evasion, money-laundering, corruption, bribery of officials. They probably even dredged up some old unpaid parking tickets. He was facing twenty years in jail, which was pretty bad. But for Martin, the worst news was that all the assets of the companies had been frozen, including the tens of thousands of shares he had bought two days earlier, with almost every penny he owned.

It didn’t take long for Chloe to realise the money was gone, and even less time after that to go crying to her father. Retribution was swift. Job gone, wife gone, money gone. By the time Friday night came, he was sitting alone in his flat holding a sheaf of papers that effectively outlined the end of his life as he knew it. Old man Harris had bailed out his daughter financially, but nothing was coming Martin’s way. He avoided prosecution, so Chloe’s name wouldn’t be dragged through the papers. But it was a close call, and he would never see the money again. He signed all the paper work put in front of him, not bothering to read it. He knew what it would say. All assets to his wife, no future claim on anything, and agreement to a divorce on any grounds the lawyers came up with. Better than jail.

The flat was all he had left to call his own, and he knew that would have to go. His credit card bills alone stood him in almost a grand a month. When he had been earning that much every day, it seemed like a drop in the ocean. But now he was pot-less, he would have to sell up to raise funds, rent somewhere cheap, and try to rebuild his life. Trouble was, riverside flats, once so desirable, were now ten a penny. He took a hit of over fifty grand on what he paid for it, and rented a reasonable flat in north London, making sure to pay off his credit cards with the capital. Even his car was gone, as it had been leased by the company. So he bought a travel card, the first one he had ever owned. But getting work proved to be impossible. He should have known. His name was mud, blacklisted by Harris-Coyle, he could forget anything in the financial sector. So the reasonable flat in north London had to go, replaced by the tip he still lived in, far to the east of the city. Now the money had been running out, and buying the typewriter had been very much his last roll of the dice.

Martin flagged down a taxi on the main road, and headed for Oxford Street. In one of the biggest phone shops, he bought the latest Apple Smartphone, on a rolling contract that cost fifty quid a month, with unlimited Internet. Crossing over to the huge department store, John Lewis, he bought the latest I-pad, and a smart case to keep it in. Another taxi took him back to the High Street near his flat, and he went into the Estate Agent there, to inquire about a smarter flat, on a nicer street. By the time he got home that night, he had signed a rental agreement on a two-bed top floor flat, and arranged for broadband to be installed. The new place was nicely furnished, and all he would need was some bedding and towels. He would buy those soon, along with some new clothes. A lot of new clothes.

He ate the takeaway pizza he had brought home, then sat at the table, pulling the Remington closer.

The gambler was back in business.

As he started to type on the page, Martin had a eureka moment. It suddenly dawned on him that he didn’t actually have to write a novel at all. All that was needed was to write about him writing novels, and given the events of the last few days, they would surely appear. It had to be worth a try. He liked the buzz, the tingle of excitement as his mind explored the possibilities. As he pressed the shift key, and placed a finger over the letter R, he muttered quietly to himself. “Careful now”.

‘Readers are eagerly anticipating the new novel from Martin Harwood. This will be the seventh book in the best-selling series about Sam Logan, the tough-talking money man who finds himself getting into all kinds of situations in some of the most exotic locations in the world. Catching the mood of the literary world at just the right moment, Harwood’s old-school misogynist hero has been compared by some critics to Fleming’s early James Bond, without the gadgets and spying of course. Like Bond, Logan travels around, lives the high life, and gets the girls. But his speciality is financial trading, wheeling and dealing of the most dubious kind. And he is definitely not On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Harwood arrived on the scene from out of the blue, with his first book, ‘Sam Logan: The Reckoning’. That novel topped the best seller charts in every English-speaking country for weeks, and led to a lucrative film franchise deal for the rather mysterious Harwood. With the first motion picture blockbuster in production, the book was translated into twelve other languages, and ranked number one on Amazon everywhere. Martin is a reclusive man, reluctant to give interviews, and little is known about his past. He lives in a converted warehouse in an unfashionable part of the capital, an area favoured by aspiring poets, and trendy sculptors. Avoiding public events like book-signings and TV interviews, it is said that he just works alone in his home, typing his manuscripts on an old portable typewriter. I for one would like to know more about him, but as long as the great novels keep coming, I will be happy with that’.

Martin sat back, and read over the page. Would this format work? Was he allowed to write about himself, as if some newspaper book critic was discussing him? It occurred to him that this might be breaking the rules of the old Remington, but he had no idea what those rules were. If any even existed. He was sure about one thing, nothing would happen until he woke up tomorrow, that seemed to be one rule at least. And if what he had just typed didn’t happen, he had nothing to lose, after all. He decided that he would watch an old film on TV, drink a few glasses of Scotch, and have an early night. As he lay down in bed, he felt no fear. A lesser man might be full of trepidation about the next morning. But he wasn’t a lesser man.

It was the smell that woke him. Expensive after-shave, fresh linen, and what appeared to be barbecued meat, drifting in from an open window. Something felt strange on his left wrist. He opened his eyes to discover that he was wearing an Omega Seamaster watch, with its metal bracelet. He smiled and shook his head. Nice detail. As worn by James Bond, in the Fleming books. Waiting until his eyes were fully focused, he looked around the unfamiliar room. It was huge, as was the gigantic bed he was lying in. A vintage clock dominated the wall opposite, telling him it was almost ten. In front of one of the massive windows stood an antique bath, its claw feet resting on the polished boards of the wooden floor. Decoration was sparse; masculine, minimal. The bedding was grey and black, and there was just one chair in the room, a Bauhaus Wassily, in black leather.

He needed to pee, so went off in search of a toilet, wondering why anyone would have designed a bathroom in a bedroom, without considering an en-suite toilet. The open-plan living area made him catch his breath. It was enormous, with no less than eight huge windows allowing light to flood in. The trendy modern kitchen ran along the far wall, and a desk almost the size of his former flat dominated the area under four of the windows. Behind the kitchen, he found a corridor leading along to what was obviously the front door of the flat, and off that corridor, various doors led into a utility room, an enormous family-size bathroom, and what appeared to be a guest room, with a small window overlooking a side alley. The last door opened into a walk-in storage cupboard, with all the usual household appliances and cleaning materials neatly stacked in place. He went back to the bathroom and emptied his bladder, chuckling at his good fortune.

Back in the church-like living room, he smiled at the huge posters on the walls. Press cuttings, mostly rave reviews, and prints of his book covers, all in matching art frames. Next to the desk, a low bookcase bulged with copies of his books. Hardback and paperback, and in all the numerous translations too. It suddenly occurred to him that he might have to set to and read them all, as he had no idea what was in them. That thought made him laugh out loud. On the desk was the I-pad, the mobile phone, and a huge Apple PC, with the biggest screen he had ever seen on a computer. A cool-looking printer sat next to that, along with a row of awards, bestowed by various publishers and book prize organisations. Pride of place at the front, resting on an antique red leather blotter, sat the old Remington, looking as good as new.

The green leather-covered Captain’s chair looked as if it had seen some use. He flopped down in it, and twirled it around, listening to the mechanism creak with age. Opening some of the drawers below the top of the desk, he found one full of quality typing paper, and he pulled out a single sheet. But before he typed anything on it, something made him pause. He needed a recap, some time to put everything into context. And he had to familiarise himself with all the rooms, and the cupboards too.

He had woken up in the luxury apartment, with everything even better than he had imagined. Designer clothes filled the wardrobes and drawers. One door led to a shoe cupboard, stacked with every type of shoe anyone could ever need. All in his size, of course. Everything in the kitchen was high-end and expensive, and a drinks cupboard under the sixty-inch TV was full of all his preferred brands of wines and spirits. A satellite box was connected to the TV too, as well as a market-leading Blu-Ray player. On the desk was a fax machine, and a landline phone with lots of buttons that he didn’t have a clue about. Three large sofas provided the main seating, all in soft black leather, with chrome frames. Further down, before the kitchen counter, a see-though perspex dining table provided seating for eight, according to the number of matching chairs placed around it. This was exactly as he would have wanted it, given the choice. But he might have included blinds or curtains, and he was left wondering why none of the rooms didn’t have any.

There was no sign of a woman anywhere in the place. No cosmetics in the bathroom, shoes by the bed, or a dressing gown hanging behind the bathroom door. That was a relief, at least he wouldn’t have to remember someone’s name.

He sat back down and thought hard. The old crappy flat was gone. The two-bed he had signed the lease on had never existed, and he wasn’t renting it, obviously. He still had the same phone and the I-pad, but the rest was new, including the expensive watch, the computer, and everything else. But what was his starting point? How had he arrived in this designer loft? Had he ever lived in the flat near the street market? If not, how had it been possible for him to buy the typewriter? That was still there. He was sitting looking at it now. The one constant, the one thing that travelled with him. He thought of the line from Shakespeare, surprised he even knew it. “That way, madness lies”.

His head started to hurt again, and he felt like he might be sick.

Even though he had just got up, he went back to bed.

The sound of the telephone ringing woke him up. There was no extension in the bedroom, so he waited for it to click on to an answerphone. The big clock showed it was almost four, and it was still bright outside. But it didn’t stop ringing. When he could stand the sound no longer, he went through to the living area to answer it.

“Hi honey. Wow! I’ve just seen the time. Are you only just out of bed? Hungover from last night, or started early this morning?” The voice was obviously female, and seemed to be adopting an American accent that wasn’t good enough to disguise an obvious London base. He paused for a moment before speaking. “Sorry, who’s this?” Her tone portrayed her displeasure well. “Who’s this? Who the hell do you think it is? It’s me, Helen, your agent. Did you think someone was impersonating me or something? Now listen Marty, I have heard from the Katz Brothers. The film premiere has been agreed for New York City, in two week’s time. They think it will chime well there. You know, Wall Street, money men, traders, all that crap. They want you over for the press preview, and they’re not taking no for an answer. I know you always say you won’t travel, but come on, those guys have invested a small fortune already, and they want options on the series up to book ten”.

Martin wondered if she was ever going to stop talking. He had never met her, as far as he knew, and he didn’t like her already. And nobody ever called him ‘Marty’. Never going to happen. He smiled as he spoke, so that his voice would sound friendly and sincere.

“Sorry, Helen. No, it’s not a hangover, just a really bad headache. I woke up with a fuzzy head, and can’t think straight. Of course I will make the premiere, and tell those Katz boys thanks from me, for taking the options. Leave it at that for now, and I will ring you tomorrow. OK?” She purred in reply, calmer now. “OK sweet cheeks, get well soon. Talk tomorrow. Oh, one last thing. The publishers need the latest manuscript in by Monday. Don’t forget now”. At last, she hung up. Martin shook his head, mumbling. “Christ almighty. Sweet cheeks”.

He pulled the Remington closer, and inserted a fresh piece of paper. When he woke up tomorrow, he would have a different agent, the publishers would be delighted with the new book, and the press preview would have been a success. With no need for him to have attended.

After a nice bath, he dressed in some of the wonderful casual clothes he found in the wardrobes and drawers. On the cabinet next to the bed was a wallet, and he checked inside. Almost three hundred in cash, four credit cards, and two bank cards. All in his name, and all in date. As he checked those expiry dates, he realised that they hadn’t changed from his old card. He switched on his mobile phone, and grinned as he saw the date and time. It was the same day. The day after he had typed the first page on the typewriter and woken up to an upside-down world. So he had been in the dingy flat after all, and had bought the Remington. Every time he changed his life, he went back to the day of that first event. He got a fresh start every time.

But that still didn’t explain why there had been nobody in the old shop for over twenty years.

Oh well, he was hungry, and fancied a drink too. On a metal coat stand in the hallway, he found a bunch of keys, guessing they were for his apartment. Next to them was a car key and alarm fob, with the distinctive logo of BMW on it. So he had a car somewhere? He would have to investigate that later. Out on the street, it was busy. He could see the food stalls that had sent the mouth-watering smells in through the window, and along alleyways leading to converted warehouses, trendy people were milling around in abundance. He recognised the area, though it was some way from the old flat. Part of the urban regeneration that had provided lots of business opportunities some years back, and managed to price out the local people until they had to flee to Lego-homes on the periphery.

He spotted a sign for a Tapas Bar, claiming to be ‘Open from 11-11’. That would do nicely. As he wandered in, he was greeted by a slender young man with natural good looks, and a dazzling smile. “Hey, Mister Martin. Ola! Your usual table?” Martin eyed the man up and down. What was it about Mediterranean men? They looked so good when they were young. Ate shitloads of pasta and rice, and never put on an ounce. They only had to smile at a girl, and she was reaching for the zip on her dress. Then they hit fifty, and it all went to rat shit. The man looked concerned. “It’s me, Mister Martin. Pablo. Same old Pablo”. Snapping out of it, Martin smiled, and pointed to his head. “Sorry, Pablo. Just woke up. Fuzzy head, yeah?” The waiter, who looked like he should have been draped over the seat of a Vespa, grinned expansively. “Of course, sit down sir. I will bring all your favourites”.

A while later, Martin sat staring at the terracotta bowls in front of him, as he sipped a glass of Rioja. Gambas Pil-Pil, Spicy Meatballs, Tortilla, and Garlic Squid. All of his personal choices, in another life. He swallowed the rest of the wine, and topped it up from the bottle on the table. Faustino Gran Reserva, another old favourite. He gazed at a poster on the wall. It was a graphic image from the Spanish Civil War. Soldiers at a barricade, with the words ‘No Pasaran!’ at the top. After finishing the food, he took his time over the last glass from the bottle.

Today had been a fresh start. One of those new fresh starts provided by the mysterious Remington. Yet he was known by name by the waiter. He had a ‘regular’ table in a restaurant he could never have been in before. And they served him the food and wine he would have chosen for himself, without him even looking at a menu. He needed to explore this time, not change things quite so drastically. He paid the bill in cash, and left young Pablo a big tip. Back at the apartment, he had another early night.

The next morning, his agent would be the respected Phillip Green and Associates, and he would be anticipating the London premiere of the Sam Logan film next month.

Martin rose early, with a plan in mind. He had to acquaint himself with the life he had written, and try to orientate his mind to what was going on. The events of last night had shown him that there was a price to pay for this exciting new turn of events. He might get the fresh start he wanted every time, but that had an unseen knock-on effect on everything around him, leaving him confused, and stranded in a familiar world that was actually totally unfamiliar. It reminded him of some old theory that he had read about many years ago. He struggled to recall the name of it, and as he sat in the old Captain’s chair, it suddenly popped into his mind. ‘The Butterfly Effect’.

The morning was busy, spent going through every piece of paperwork he could find. He had bought the apartment ten years ago, and still had a manageable mortgage outstanding on it. The car keys he had found belonged to a BMW 520i, and he had the papers for it. It had been bought new last year. He shook his head. How was that even possible? There was a garage rental agreement too, in a place just one street behind his home. So that was where it was. He found contracts signed between himself and Phillip Green, and copies of others signed by the Katz brothers, and his publishing house. They were all almost ten years old. But he had only written about Green being his agent last night, so how had that happened?

Everything seemed to have started around the time he had left Harris-Coyle, including a letter accepting the manuscript of his first Sam Logan book. A separate folder contained everything from his accountant, Donald Silver. But he didn’t know anyone called Donald Silver, and had never had an accountant. Still, it appeared he had paid up all his taxes, and invested in a healthy pension too.

He fired up the I-pad, and logged in to his online banking. The password was still the same, and his account was still in the branch close to the old dingy flat. He wondered if Vanessa was still there. Over fifty grand in his current account, and close to a hundred grand in the savings account. That didn’t seem to be that much, considering his lifestyle, so he went back through the paperwork until he found his financial portfolio, prepared by Silver. Four hundred thousand in investments, and growing slowly each quarter. That was more like it.

The phone made him jump out of his skin. She said she was Monica, and handled his affairs on behalf of Phillip Green. Martin was grateful that she introduced herself so professionally, or he would have had no idea who she was. “Mister Harwood, I have been asked to remind you that the first chapter of the next book will be required by the end of this month. Mister Green feels that now is the time to seek out some new publishers, which will hopefully make your current one increase their offer for the next book in the series”.

He blurted out his reply without thinking. “But the last one is still doing well, and the premiere of the film is due to open in London soon”. Her voice sounded bored as she replied. “But we must remember that it is over a year since the last book now, and that’s a long time in publishing. I would suggest too long. If you want to keep up the momentum, then I’m afraid we will need something to bargain with”. Martin shook his head. Oh how he hated the use of the ‘Royal We’. He toughened his tone. “Right. Leave it with me, you will have it by the end of next week”. He hung up, showing her who was really in charge.

By the time he left the flat to get some lunch, Martin had a handle on what was happening. At least he thought he did. Every time he reinvented his life, everything smoothly combined to make his idea work. But the rest of the world had moved on around him, to facilitate that. Short of writing five hundred pages of details every night, he couldn’t see how he could affect that side of things. He had to just stay alert, and monitor the small things that went on. Some things stayed constant, like the bank, the typewriter, and the fact that he was aware of the changes. The day started fresh, but everything else had started from ten years ago, when he lost his job. It was a mental challenge, but he was sure he was up to it.

The girl in the sandwich bar gave him a look. He wasn’t sure just what that look was, but he knew it was definitely a look. She was pretty, foreign-looking, maybe East European. Her voice snapped him out of the stare. “Hi, Martin. The usual?” Fortunately, she was wearing a name badge. “Thanks, Ivona. Yes, same as always”. She smiled, and nodded across at the seating area. “I will bring it over”. He took a seat and watched her prepare the sandwich, with no idea what it would contain. She kept glancing over at him, trying not to smile. She eventually came over to the table with a ham and cheese panini, and a small cup containing a double espresso. Her hand brushed against his on the table top, and she spoke very quietly. “You didn’t phone me. I was expecting your call”. She hovered, waiting for him to reply. He looked her over before speaking. Painfully thin, hair tied back, eyes dark and sunken. Not his type at all, but there must be some reason for her to have said what she did. “Sorry, so busy with work. They are on at me about getting the new book out”. He presumed she would know about him being a writer, and she did.

“Oh I am looking forward to reading it. Will I have a signed copy, like always? And the film premiere. Are we still going? I have bought a new dress with the money you gave me”. She remained at the edge of the table, ignoring the growing queue at the counter. He gave her one of his best smiles. “Of course, I will ring you soon, with all the details”. She lightly brushed her hand against his once more, and returned to the complaining people at the front. As he devoured his lunch and slurped the lukewarm coffee, he went over it in his mind. He had obviously had some sort of fling with this girl. Promised her a trip to the premiere, signed copies of his books for her, and given her money too. He didn’t even try to think about how that could have happened. Not only had he no recollection of ever meeting her before, everything about her screamed ‘not for me’. She was a nice enough girl, he was sure. But he wouldn’t have looked twice at her in the street. He placed a twenty pound note on the counter as he left, and waved a friendly goodbye as she looked up. It was too much for what he had had, but let her keep the change.

After all, it was the last time she would ever see him.

he encounter with the girl in the coffee bar had got Martin thinking. When he had been on his last dregs of cash, and hoped to make his fortune again by writing a book, where had that idea come from? He thought back to the time when he was making close to three-fifty a year as a stocks trader. He rarely read a book, and considered the best-seller lists to be full of writers who churned out formula books year on year, placing their cardboard cutout heroes into increasingly ridiculous situations simply to liven up the dull lives of people who were reading on the train, as they commuted to a job they probably hated. The reality struck him like a hammer blow.

He had never wanted to write a book. But he had woken up one morning and that thought was fixed in his mind.

It worried him that he hadn’t realised this earlier. The day he had left the flat, he had no real intention of buying a typewriter, but that thought of writing a book had definitely been there, almost like some sort of implant. He took the phone off the hook, in case he got yet another call from someone he really didn’t know. Time to think again, and to think straight this time.

Insisting on being a best selling author was pointless. There was a fair bit of money in it, but the long-term prospects were uncertain, and next year might well see him off the radar, knocked out by the latest big thing. And it came with all that grief too. Agents, hangers-on, even minor celebrity status. People wanted meetings, made demands, and even insisted on things like the ultimatum for the new manuscript. He had visions of having to keep rewriting his life, on a daily basis. So why books? That revelation helped to clear his head. He didn’t need to be a writer after all. He could be anything he chose to be, anywhere he chose to be it. All he had to do was type it up, and wake up to living it, the next morning. It was never about the Sam Logan novels, his former job, or anything else.

It was only about the Old Remington.

He poured himself a Scotch, and started to jot down some notes on a piece of paper.

By six that evening, he had made a decision. Inserting a clean piece of paper into the roller, he lined up the page, and started to type.

‘News reaches us today that someone has finally won the long-running Euromillions Lottery jackpot, the biggest payout in European history. The two-hundred million Euros was won by an Englishman, Martin Harwood, beating the previous record by thirty-one million Euros. The winner decided to go public, as he said he knew he would be hounded otherwise. He hopes it will soon be forgotten, and he can live his life undisturbed, in a location of his choosing.
Martin Harwood (44) is a former stock-market trader, and had been unemployed for some time. He is looking forward to leaving his small flat on the outskirts of East London, and starting a new life, in an unspecified European country. At the prize-giving ceremony this morning, he was seen opening champagne, but declined to give more personal information, only answering a few questions. He was later taken away by lottery officials, in a luxury limousine.’

Martin read the short piece a few times, leaving it in the typewriter, unaltered. No more books, no more hassles. Just more money than he could ever spend, and a new life in the sun, away from everything. Now that was more like it.

He went into the bedroom to get changed. Maybe he would eat at the Tapas Bar again tonight, and say his farewells to young Pedro.

Or maybe he would say nothing.

As he stirred, Martin’s mouth felt dry. He could hear a humming sound in the back of his mind, and the sudden squawking of a bird outside made him sit up. Despite bright sunshine flooding in, the air in the room was chilly. It took a moment for him to work it out. Air-conditioning, that was the humming noise. There was movement on the bed next to him, and he turned slowly, wondering what was going on. A woman was stretched out; soft arms above her head, pendulous breasts sagging to the sides, each resting on the sheet covering the mattress. And where they attached to her body, the weight of them seemed to be trying to tear them free from her chest. He sat up quietly, examining her in detail. Under her arms, a large area of dark dots indicated hair regrowth, and lower down, before being hidden by the duvet, her body showed signs of being well-covered by flesh, which rippled like small corrugations above her unseen hips. Long and thick dark hair was draped across her face, concealing her features.

He was still staring as she suddenly moved the hair away, and opened her eyes. She raised her eyebrows, no doubt puzzled by his expression. He tried to think hard, forcing that last moment of sleep from his brain. Then it came to him, like rewinding a DVD, and watching the scene again.

A bank branch, a perspex window. The sly smile, and flirtatious look. The name tag. He couldn’t hide the surprise in his voice as he spoke. “Vanessa? Vanessa from the bank?” She shook her head, smiling; small creases at the corners of her mouth suddenly making her look very attractive, as they combined into two lines. “Yes, it’s still me, Martin. What is it? A bad dream or something? Maybe you were expecting someone else to be in bed with you? Like that girl who helps the cleaning lady perhaps?” Her tone was friendly. Teasing. She rolled over to the edge, and stood up. Her naked body was very tanned, with no tan lines visible. “I need to pee. Do you want me to bring you back a coffee?” He nodded, mesmerised by her hairless nakedness, and the deep curves of her figure. She looked just as he remembered her from the bank.

Except she was wearing clothes last time.

Martin propped himself up on the pillows, looking around the bright room, with its unusual decor. He felt like he was on holiday. He was definitely not in England, but other than that, he didn’t have a clue. Here he was, with the woman from the bank. It was something, definitely not a one-night stand, he sensed that. She was familiar, easy in his company, confident being naked around him. He was determined not to just let it all wash over him this time. He wanted to know the hows, whys, and whens. The pieces had to fit together for once, as he was tired of these fresh starts every morning, and the unseen effects that blighted the eventual outcome. He made up his mind to have a serious talk with Vanessa when she came back with the coffee. It didn’t matter if she thought he was crazy, he was going to ask some questions.
A lot of questions.

Looking around the room again, a moment of panic set in.

He couldn’t see the old Remington anywhere.

Vanessa came back with the coffee. She sat crossed-legged on the bed, passing over the mug. It was fragrant, and sweet. Martin wondered why it was sweet, as he had never taken sugar. From a bedside table, she took a pack of cigarettes, and a lighter. Lighting the long, white tube, she passed over the packet and lighter to Martin, reaching behind to retrieve a huge crystal ashtray. He slid a slim cigarette from the pack, sparked the classic Zippo, and lit it. It wasn’t until he inhaled that first dizzy lungful, and blew it back out over Vanessa’s chest, that it dawned on him that he didn’t smoke.
Never had, not one.

Well he did now, that was obvious.

Swirling the tip of her cigarette around in the ashtray, Vanessa followed Martin’s eyes, as they hovered around every detail of her face and body. After a while, she just had to ask. “You’re looking at me funny this morning, love. What is it? Is there something different about me today? Don’t tell me you have gone off me already?”

Martin reached over, and flicked the ash from his cigarette. He marvelled at how natural it felt to do that, and how the firm paper tube felt so familiar between his fingers. He looked at Vanessa’s quizzical expression, and sighed. “I have got to tell you something. I don’t want you to be alarmed, but you are going to find it very strange. I seem to have woken up this morning with no idea where I am. I remember you from one time in the bank, but had no idea we were together. I don’t know where this house is, how I got here, or how long we have been here. I didn’t think that I smoked cigarettes, and I am sure I have never taken sugar in my coffee. And I always have a typewriter with me, an old portable, in a blue case. Have you seen that?” Her previous look of concern changed to a wide attractive smile. “Come on. Is it April? I know it’s not April, so what other kind of fool are you taking me for?”

Patting her leg with his free hand, he tried to look as serious as he could, without unduly alarming her. “Not fooling, honey. Deadly serious. I can’t remember a bloody thing. I need you to fill me in on all the details, everything that happened since we first got together. The lot. How we got here, where we are, how long we have been here. Just pretend I know nothing at all, and you won’t be far wrong”. Vanessa suddenly stretched out her right leg, rubbing the calf furiously, to ease the sharp pain of a sudden cramp. He watched as her breasts bounced around because of her actions, occasionally slapping into each other. When she had calmed down, she smiled. “I sat too long with my legs crossed, should have known better. Now, stop mucking about, Martin. What do you fancy doing today?” She turned to the side, placing her empty coffee cup on the cabinet.

He spoke quietly, his tone finally convincing. “I mean it, it’s serious. I really don’t know, I swear to you”. Her irritation changed to alarm, as she took in what he was saying. “Oh God, maybe you’ve had a stroke or something. Christ, Martin, you should have said. Shall I call an ambulance? Get a doctor out?” Shaking his head, he smiled reassuringly. “No need, it’s probably just some sort of blip. Just tell me what I need to know, and I’m sure it will all come flooding back. Don’t leave anything out, even the small details. Really, don’t worry, I just need to get the pieces together in my head”. She didn’t look very sure about that, but started to talk.

“Well I had seen you in the bank, on and off. You always gave me a look, you know, one of those looks. I thought you were really nice, but to be honest you often looked a bit shabby”. She paused. “Is this what you want? Is this how you want me to tell it?” He nodded. “Go on. Yes. Just like that”. “Well one day, you came in wearing a lovely suit, and looked so smart and handsome. The manager shook your hand, and took you into her office. Later on, you came out, and beckoned me over. You said that you would like me to join you for dinner that night, at The Ritz Hotel. I thought you were teasing me, and laughed it off. But you gave me the number of the hotel, and your room number too, telling me to call you, if I changed my mind. After you left the bank, one of the girls told me that you had won the Euromillions Jackpot. So I waited until I was due to leave work, and phoned you in The Ritz, to make sure. You answered, and I agreed to have dinner with you at eight”.

Martin raised a hand to stop her. “So it was the money then? That’s what made the difference, and changed your mind about the date?” Vanessa looked upset. “You really don’t remember, do you?” He shook his head, and she carried on. “I was married, Martin. I couldn’t just drop everything, and go out for dinner with a man I thought was winding me up about living at The Ritz. I would have to come up with a bloody good excuse to get out that night, or face all the grief from my husband. But when I found out you had a hundred million or whatever, yes that changed my mind. I just thought what the hell, I’m doing this. So I put on my best cocktail dress, told my husband I had to go to something at the bank with short notice, ignored his moans about it, and came to meet you at The Ritz. We had dinner, and lots of wine, went up to your room, and the obvious happened. Before I left to go home, you asked me to just walk away from it all, leave my husband, and go to live with you in Spain. And amazingly, that’s just what I did”. She stopped talking, and lit another cigarette.

Martin looked through the glass doors at the bright sun outside. “So we’re in Spain then?” Vanessa seemed exasperated now. “Yes. Spain. El Palo, a few miles from Malaga. Are you sure you are not playing a joke on me, Martin? I won’t be happy, if you are”. He finished the last of his coffee, and gave her his best grim face. “I promise you, I have no recollection of this at all. How long have we been here?” She still didn’t sound convinced. “Just over a year. Look, remember this?” She waved her left hand in his face, showing a huge diamond engagement ring on the third finger. “We are engaged, just waiting for my divorce to be sorted out. You told me that as soon as I got the papers, we would get married, and I would be Mrs Harwood. I hope you haven’t conveniently forgotten that too? Bloody hell, Martin, I even agreed to a pre-nup with your lawyer”.

His face softened and he smiled warmly. “That sounds good to me, Vanessa. If that’s what I said, then that’s what will happen. I promise”. She relaxed, her body sinking back onto the bed.

He waited a while, and then asked another question, trying to sound casual and offhand.

“Oh, and that old typewriter I mentioned. Do you know where it is?”

Vanessa picked up a silky dressing gown from the floor, and wrapped it around her body. Walking to the glass doors, she pulled them open, and pointed outside. Martin felt the blast of heat enter the room, overwhelming the still-running air conditioning. “Look over there, Martin, next to the pool house. Those old garages”. He stood up and joined her at the window, looking over in the direction indicated by her hand. “You had all your stuff boxed up and sent over by courier. It all went in there”. Across a covered terrace, he could see a huge swimming pool, and beyond that a row of white buildings. “If you had a typewriter, and had it packed away, it will be in one of the boxes inside there. I have certainly never seen it since we came here”.

There was a splashing sound in the pool, and he turned to see what had made it. A young woman was pulling herself from the water, long dark hair, soaking wet. Her slim body was tanned, and she was topless, wearing only the briefest bikini bottoms. As she saw the couple in the opening, she grinned and looked away, apparently embarrassed by Martin’s naked body. Grabbing a towel, she turned to her left, and walked off quickly. Vanessa spotted the vacant look on his face. “I suppose you don’t remember Melanie either? My daughter? She decided to come with us”. He shook his head. She couldn’t stifle a chuckle. “I tell you, Martin, if you’re taking the piss out of me, you are going to be in so much trouble. Put some clothes on, for Christ’s sake”.

Much of the rest of the day was spent acquainting himself with the house and grounds. And Melanie, who turned out to be alright, for a twenty year-old. Martin considered that he had been remarkably restrained, considering the huge sum he had won. The house had five other bedrooms, in addition to the master suite he had woken up in. Each one had it’s own bathroom, and there were numerous separate toilets dotted around the house too. The kitchen was huge, decked out with everything needed, and there was a separate dining room, looking over the terrace at the back. The main living room took up most of the front of the house, but was rarely used, according to Vanessa. “We spend most of our time outside, on the terrace or around the pool. And the rest in the bedroom.” That last was delivered with a knowing wink.

Most of the housework was done by Consuelo, a local woman who came in every day, dropped off by her husband. His name was Luis, and he also did occasional jobs, such as trimming the trees, and sorting out the landscaped gardens. When Consuelo had some big job on, like changing all the beds on the same day, or cleaning the windows inside and out, she brought a young girl with her from town, Elena. The house was three miles from El Palo, almost ten from Malaga. If there were any neighbours, Vanessa had never seen any. Melanie didn’t work. She had dropped out of University to go to Spain with them, and had some vague idea about starting up her own make-up brand. Outside the front of the house was a curved driveway, with a nearly-new Range Rover parked on it. It was brilliant white, with tinted glass all round. Not far behind it was a bright pink Fiat 500. Vanessa told him he had bought that for Melanie.

Once he knew where everything was, and who was who, Martin sat on the terrace, drinking a cold beer. He couldn’t believe how hot it was, and Vanessa had told him it would be much hotter next month. He had also not failed to notice that he was very tanned, so that left him wondering why he wasn’t used to the heat. No point keep going over it, just accept it. Save more brain ache. Sipping the beer, and enjoying his tenth cigarette of the day, he had to conclude that it was a pretty good deal. Vanessa was curvy and attractive, and exactly his type. It was as if he had designed her with the help of a sketch artist. She was neither stupidly dull, nor annoyingly intellectual, and she really seemed to like him. Mind you, for two hundred million euros, she could probably like anyone.

The house was great, the woman was sexy, and even her leech of a daughter was pleasant enough. She spent most of the day in her room, doing stuff online. According to Vanessa, they wouldn’t see much of her. And from checking his online financial statements, he discovered that he had spent less than six million euros for the lot. Nobody was hassling him with deadlines, or pretending they knew him. He could just chill out, enjoy the new life, the money, and Vanessa. Especially her. But despite the reality check, he just knew he wouldn’t settle, not until he found that old typewriter.

Vanessa joined him on the terrace. “What do you say we drive down into town tonight. Perhaps have a nice paella? We could go to that place you like, the one away from the front. You know, the quiet street.” He turned and smiled at her. She lit a cigarette, and drank some of her iced tea. When he didn’t reply, she grinned. “You didn’t fall for it then? You didn’t say, oh that place, I like that place”. He wagged a finger at her. “I thought you believed me? You know I won’t remember any restaurants, or which way to drive to town. Trying to trip me up like that just makes me think you really don’t trust me”. She shrugged, puffing on the cigarette. “Well you must agree it is all sounding a bit far-fetched, Martin? I mean, I appreciate you didn’t seem to know where anything was, and you did look surprised to see Melanie. But it’s been a year. You must remember something?” He rubbed his hand over his eyes. “The thing is, Vanessa, I genuinely don’t. All I know is what you tell me. You could tell me anything, and I would have to believe it. Imagine how frustrating that is for me”.

Her tone softened. “So you don’t remember telling me that I was your ideal woman, and the sexiest most beautiful person you had ever been with? Or that you will stay with me for the rest of your life, and be the happiest man in the world. Or that you promised me I could have one million euros for new clothes?” She started laughing at that last one, and Martin had to laugh too. He chuckled, and finished the beer. “I may not remember saying it, but I do believe it’s true. Well, except not a whole one million”. She smiled sweetly at him. “Flatterer. And by the way, you call me Ness. You have done, ever since that night at The Ritz.

The quiet part of town was busy enough. He would hate to see the busy part. Ness showed him where to drive under an arch, and that led to a spot behind the restaurant where they could park the car. According to her, he was such a big spender, they had insisted he could always park there. They walked back to the entrance, holding hands. The baking heat of earlier had been replaced by that nice evening heat that made you feel you could go on all night, even sleep under the stars. As they walked through the front door into the chill of air-conditioning, a middle-aged man dashed over, a beaming smile on his face. “Mister Martin! How lovely to see you again. And the lovely lady. Good evening sir, good evening madam. I will show you to one of our best tables. Please to follow me”. He sat them at a table in a dimly-lit area at the back, and handed them two menus the size of billboards. “I will send someone to take your drinks order”.

A couple of minutes later, Martin’s perusal of the menu was interrupted by a friendly voice. “Sir, Madam, what would you like to drink, please?” He looked over the top of his menu, and Ness was already replying. “Gin and tonic for me, I think”. She turned to Martin. “Do you want to share some Sangria instead, or will you be sticking with red wine?” He didn’t reply. He was looking at the slender young man with the nice teeth. A man who looked like he should be riding a Vespa. The waiter turned, awaiting his decision on the drinks. Martin’s face was like stone. “I know you. It’s Pablo, isn’t it? Do you remember me?” The younger man looked puzzled. “Of course sir. You and the lady come here a lot. I serve you many times before. Pablo. Yes, Pablo.”

Martin’s expression didn’t change. “No, not here. In London, a Tapas Bar, in Stoke Newington. I used to leave you a big tip. You knew all my favourite Tapas dishes. You were open from eleven until eleven”. Pablo grinned. “London sir? No, never London. I have not been to England. I live all my life here, in Malaga”. He pointed in the direction of the larger city to the west. “You must make a mistake about me”. Martin shrugged. Oh well, obviously my mistake, as you say. Make it a bottle of Rioja, a Gran Reserva”. The waiter nodded, and walked away to get the drinks.

Something about his eyes told Martin it was the same Pablo.

It had been almost a week since he had encountered Pablo in that restaurant. Martin had been distracted since, unsettled by the appearance of someone from what he now thought of as another life. He hadn’t let on to Ness, deciding to settle into life with her for now, and go with the flow. And the flow was pretty good, he had to admit. She liked to have what she called her Siesta Sessions, most afternoons, and he couldn’t remember when sex had been better for him. The evenings were good too. Early drinks on the patio, Ness cooking some great food, and Melanie spending her time either down in the town, or in her room. It was peaceful, and relaxing in every way. But he still hadn’t found the old Remington anywhere around the house.

Consuelo walked past, giving him a respectful nod. He watched as she carried on through to the kitchen. Her tiny body looked like a medical sculpture, one of those designed to show anatomy. There was no spare flesh on the woman at all. Her legs looked like those of a racehorse, pure muscle. She looked to be around sixty, and Martin reckoned she would live to one hundred. At least. He got up from the sun lounger and followed her. As she noticed him, she stopped and smiled. “Señor?” He gave her his best friendly face. “Consuelo, necesito las llaves para los viejos garajes. Hay cajas allí que necesito mirar”. Martin was amazed. When had he learned how to speak Spanish? He certainly hadn’t written that on the Remington. Consuelo had clearly understood that he needed the keys for the old garages to look through his boxes, as she opened a cupboard door, and took a full bunch of keys from a hook. “Aquí está señor, los dos pequeños, al final”. He understood her perfectly. The two smallest keys, on the end of the bunch. He nodded his thanks, and left.

As he walked past Ness, he stopped. She was sprawled out on a sun lounger, between the terrace and the pool. As Luis was not expected that day, she was naked, enjoying the freedom of the hot sun on her body. She shone like oil on water, covered in factor thirty. “Ness, can I speak Spanish?” She opened her eyes slowly, and gave him a slanted smile. “Is that a joke?” He smiled back. “No, not at all. But I just spoke Spanish to Consuelo, and she understood me. And I knew what she said in reply”. Ness shook her head. She thought he was teasing. “Well, Martin, it must be a miracle, because you couldn’t speak it yesterday”. With that, she closed her eyes again, and returned to baking her body in the sunshine.

The first of the garages was half-empty. Some old sun umbrellas, a kettle barbecue, and two patio heaters dominated the space. He wondered when anyone would ever need patio heaters, in these temperatures. No boxes though. He went on to the second one, and whistled as he opened the door. It was at least half full of sturdy boxes, all marked with the address of the villa, and with arrows pointing which way up they should be transported. He tore the tape from the closest one, and found it was full of his old shoes. Deciding to create two piles, which he named ‘keep’ and ‘chuck’ in his head, he slid that one over to the ‘chuck’ pile. Almost two hours later, and the ‘chuck’ pile contained almost all the boxes. On the other side, he had stacked two boxes of DVD films, and books. None of the boxes had contained the typewriter, though three of them had already been opened, so he feared that someone might have taken it.

He arrived back at the house, dirty, hot, and pissed off. Sure, things were great here. He kept admitting that to himself. But without that Remington, he felt incomplete, never having the chance to change anything, ever again. Ness was on the terrace, enjoying a cold drink. She had a piece of colourful flimsy gauze wrapped around her waist, to spare Consuelo the embarrassment of seeing her employer naked. She looked up at Martin, shaking her head. “Look at the state of you! What the hell have you been up to over there?”

He wasn’t feeling very happy, and was about to launch into a rant about the Remington, when they heard a shout from inside the house. “Mum, MUM! Come quick!” It was Melanie of course, and she sounded hysterical about something. Ness jumped up, the gauze slipping off and wrapping around the chair. She walked quickly into the house, with Martin following close behind. At the end of the corridor, Melanie was standing in the doorway of her room, holding a phone, and smiling. Just like her mother, she didn’t have a stitch on. As he caught up, Martin respectfully averted his eyes from the young woman’s naked body. “Am I the only one who ever wears any clothes in this house! For Christ’s sake, Mel, put something on”. She ignored him, showing no embarrassment whatsoever. Ness raised a hand to stop him talking. “What is it love?” Her concern had been diminished by her daughter’s smile.

“I was just talking to Dad. You’ll never guess. Never!” Ness had no chance to reply, before she continued. “He has sent the divorce papers. He asked me to tell you not to delay them, as he wants to get married again. Can you believe it? All that fuss when we left, and now he’s getting married again, already”. Martin turned and started to walk away. Their family business wasn’t anything to do with him, and he would give Ness some privacy, to take in the news. He hadn’t managed three steps, before Mel spoke again, her voice rising excitedly. “Her name is Chloe Harris. She lives in Totteridge, and she’s really rich!” Martin thought he might either pass out, or vomit. His ex-wife was going to marry the deserted husband of his current fiance? How could that have happened? How could all that even exist in the same time scale? He heard Ness reply. “Well good for him. He might stop pestering me now, and get on with his life. Did you hear that, Martin?”

He turned slowly, and nodded. He was unable to manage a smile. Still trying not to look at the naked young woman in the doorway, he allowed his gaze to wander over her shoulder, into the large room beyond. There, in the middle of an antique desk, stood the old Remington, the case open. That made him forget about Chloe for a moment. “What the hell are you doing with my typewriter, Melanie? I have been looking everywhere for that”. He turned to Ness. “Did you know the bitch had it? You know I was trying to find it”. Melanie looked shocked, and Ness hardened her face. “There’s no need for that, Martin. Of course I didn’t know she had it, or I would have told you”. She turned to her daughter. “Give him the bloody thing, love. I don’t know why you even took it. You already have the latest Apple thing”. Melanie was furious, but mainly because her eyes were tearing up. She stomped over and grabbed the Remington, not bothering to zip up the case. Martin flinched. “Careful with it!”

As she handed it over, she raised the watery eyes to Martin. “I never took it. It was here when I arrived, sitting right there on the desk. I didn’t know it was yours, it’s just as it was when I moved in. I have never used it, but I thought it looked nice. You know, retro, like a designer item”. She sounded convincing. Martin zipped up the case. “OK, I apologise then. It’s just that this is very precious to me, for sentimental reasons. I didn’t mean to upset you, Mel. But like I said, I have been looking everywhere for it”. She sniffed her runny nose, and shrugged. “Well, nobody told me”. He tore his eyes away from her body once again. “All over now. Put some clothes on. Please.” She went back inside, and banged the door shut.

As they walked back along the corridor, Ness was eyeing him from the side, and shaking her head. He turned to her, smiling.

“All right. I know I was over the top. I will buy her something nice to say sorry”.

hat night, Martin did his best to placate Ness. She was royally fed up about his treatment of her daughter, and acting miffed. He shut the typewriter away in one of the drawers in what he had been told was ‘the study’. Then he went back out onto the terrace to smooth things over with his fiance. After some nice smooching, and a few passionate kisses, Ness calmed down. But she hadn’t let it go completely. “What is it with that old portable, Martin? Why the hell is it such a big deal, when you can afford to get the latest and best computer money can buy? I just don’t get it. You never mentioned it before”.

He poured her another glass of red wine, and smiled to himself. Tell her the truth. She will never believe it, and it might make her laugh. Once they are laughing, the worst is over. “The thing is, Ness, and you will think I am crazy, but that typewriter changes my future. Whatever I type on it one day, comes true the next. Once I have gone to bed, and woken up again. How do you think I got all this money?” As expected, she laughed. “Yeah, right. Pull the other one, Martin. A magic typewriter? Do you think I am some sort of impressionable kid?” Martin took his time. He told her the whole story. Pablo, Chloe, changing his life on a daily basis, and how he had been a famous novelist. For a while.

She listened, drinking her wine, and shaking her head. She had laughed, but the worst wasn’t over. “Honestly, Martin. I thought you gave me more credit. You tell me a fairy story, and expect me to believe it. I am very disappointed in you. I thought we had trust. I thought we had something special, I really did”. She grabbed the bottle, and filled her glass to the brim. He could see she was past tipsy, and feared that it would all turn nasty. “I will prove it you, honey”. We will type something on the machine tonight, and it will come true tomorrow. Whatever you want. You can tell me. Dictate it, if you want”. She waved a dismissive hand at him, and continued to swallow the wine. They sat like that for some time, both smoking heavily, and staring at the starry sky.

It was getting late when she finally slammed down her empty glass, and turned with a spiteful look on her face. “Right. Let’s go into the study, type something on that bloody thing, and we will see if that happens tomorrow. And when it doesn’t, I will have some choice things to say to you, believe me. I absolutely hate being treated as if I’m stupid. I had enough of that with Richard. You know that already”. He followed her into the room that was close to the size of his old flat. She marched over to the desk, and yelled, “I’m waiting!” He retrieved the Remington from the drawer, unzipped the case, and carefully inserted a piece of paper, taken from the printer next the the desk lamp. He turned to her. “What shall I type? You say”. She shrugged, suddenly less confident. “Something stupid. Something that could never happen. Surprise me”.

Martin hesitated for a moment, and a vision of Melanie came into his mind. He typed the sentence quickly, then slid the machine sideways, so that Ness could read what he had written.

‘Vanessa decided to go to Spain, and to live with Martin. Not long after that, her daughter Melanie abandoned her university degree, and left home to join them. She was nothing like her mother. Her fair hair was lank and greasy, she was very spotty, and considerably overweight. Martin estimated she must tip the scales at close to three hundred and fifty pounds. which for a woman of her height made her seriously obese. She cared little about her appearance, had no ambition, and had not even bothered to learn how to drive. Living in the sunshine of Spain was torture for her, as she was too shy to swim in the pool or the sea, and was too self-conscious to ever wear anything other than jeans, and an over-sized t-shirt’.

Ness read the paragraph, and looked over to Martin. “So you have written about my daughter being the total opposite of what she is, and you’re telling me that when we wake up tomorrow, that’s what she will be like?” He nodded. “But if you want, I can write something else. I could write that you are a natural blonde, or that Consuelo is only twenty-five, or that you have a Rolls-Royce limousine. It’s up to you, Ness”. Her eyes flickered. A moment of alarm, overwhelmed by disbelief. Martin kept her gaze, his mind turning over the fact that he had finally revealed his secret to someone else, and wondering if that was going to affect the outcome. Ness sat back, and folded her arms. “No, leave that in. Because that is never going to happen, not in a million years”.

Before they went to sleep that night, the atmosphere in the bedroom was strained. Ness was going through everything in her head, and firing random questions at him. “So you typed about winning the lottery, and it just happened? He nodded. “Yes, I never even bought a ticket”. After she let that sink in, something else occurred to her. “Did you type me into it too, into your bed, and being in love with you?” He reached for her hand, but she pulled it away. “I promise you I didn’t. I only met you that one time in the bank, but when I typed about the money and moving abroad, I woke up the next morning with you in bed next to me. I didn’t even know I was in Spain, did I?”

It was too much for her to take in, he knew that. She turned over, showing her back to him. As she reached to turn out the light, she spoke again, and her voice sounded different. “Honestly, Martin, I think you must either be going insane, or thinking you can treat me like a complete idiot. To come up with all that crap just to explain why that bloody typewriter is so important, instead of just telling me the truth. I have to tell you I am disappointed in you. Really.” As the light went out, he spoke softly to her. “You will see. Wait until tomorrow love”.

He woke up feeling extremely cold. He was alone in the bed, and it was almost nine. He checked the control for the air-conditioning, and saw it was on its lowest temperature setting. The room was like a fridge. Martin put some shorts on, and walked through to the terrace. The morning heat took the chill off his body immediately, and he continued in the direction of the pool. Ness was nowhere to be seen, but as he drew level with the dining room, movement inside attracted his attention.

A large woman was sitting at the table, eating pancakes and syrup from a plate in front of her. Another plate loaded with the same things stood next to her elbow, waiting to be consumed. He opened the door, and walked in. She looked up at him, swallowed the mouthful, and smiled. “Morning, Martin. Do you want some pancakes? There are more on the way, when Mum’s finished doing them”. Behind the swollen cheeks, and a double chin that looked like a medical collar, Melanie’s voice was still recognisable. “No that’s alright, Mel. I’m not hungry”. She shrugged, and continued to eat, slopping syrup down the front of the massive t-shirt, that was displaying the logo of ZZ Top, of all things.

Martin headed straight for the kitchen, keen to hear what Ness had to say about her daughter’s transformation. He guessed she would be angry, but she had to be convinced now. He would calm her down, and write Melanie back to her old self later. She was standing at the cooker, and smiled warmly as he came in. “Morning love. Do you want some pancakes? I’m just doing some extra for Melanie. She’s hungry, poor thing. Plenty for us too, if you fancy some”. Martin didn’t reply, and he felt his mouth drop open. Leaning on the counter for support, he looked her up and down.

Her hair was unwashed, and tied back in a pony tail that hung over one shoulder. She wore no make-up, and her huge arms wobbled as she flipped the pancakes around in the pan. She was wearing an unsuitable bikini. Unsuitable for a woman of her size, anyway. Between the two halves of the garment, rolls of fat cascaded down, like lava flowing from a volcano. Hips and thighs merged, hanging out to the sides like overstuffed weekend bags. Her swollen feet were jammed into some flip flops that were almost invisible under the painfully tight skin. She looked away from the hob, raising her eyebrows. “Did you hear me love? Want some of these or not?”

Pulling himself together, Martin gave her a weak smile. “No thanks, Ness. I’m not feeling hungry this morning”. She flapped her eyelids at him. “Well I’m feeling hungry for you, lovely man. Wait until I have had these pancakes, then I’m having you”. She mouthed a pouting kiss at him. Without replying, he turned to head for the study. He had to get to the Remington, and fast.

As he walked away, she called after him. “And what’s with the Ness’? You know I hate anyone shortening my name”.

Later that night, Martin sat in the study staring at the blank sheet of paper in the typewriter. The previous attempt to change things had backfired. Vanessa hadn’t remembered anything, and he had chosen not to remind her. By physically changing Melanie, he had apparently created a mother who was also like that, and he had no idea why or how that happened. Other than the physical changes, there were few differences. The Fiat 500 had gone, as Melanie could no longer drive. Vanessa was very much the same, as he had found out when she had led him off to the bedroom for her required siesta session. Although her physical changes might normally have repulsed him, he was very surprised just how much he had enjoyed it. Perhaps the constant alteration of events was also affecting his outlook, and innate prejudices? Could it be that he was managing to write himself into being a better person?

With both the women sleeping soundly, he thought long and hard before hitting a single key on the machine. He still had the money. The house and lifestyle were no less enviable, and so what if Vanessa was twice the size? Trying to change her back was likely to set something unexpected in motion once again, something he was gradually losing control of. Maybe leave well enough alone, and try to make a life for himself as it was. There was a great deal to be said for having a loving partner, lots of money, and a beautiful house in the sun. He leaned forward, beginning to type, knowing exactly what to write.

“Martin was finally settled. He had a woman who loved him, and a daughter who looked on him as a father figure.
Life was very comfortable indeed, and no man could really have asked for more”.

He was happy with that, at least for now. Just confirming his thoughts, and hopefully sealing his life in Spain as it was. Leaving the page in the roller, he went into the chilly bedroom and climbed in next to the gently snoring Vanessa. He wrapped his arms around her new cuddly figure, and drifted off to sleep with a smile on his face.

It was something bouncing on the bed that woke him. The mattress was leaping under his body, and he just knew he wouldn’t sleep through that disturbance. When he opened his eyes, he saw a young girl jumping up and down, using the bed like a trampoline. Her hair was in bunches to the sides, and she was wearing what looked like a school uniform. She gave him a toothy grin, and stopped bouncing. “Daddy, get up. You have to take me to school”. He stared at her, trying to find some recognition in his brain. The room was cold, outside of the warm duvet, and the light coming through a window to his left was dull, the sky a battleship grey. Another voice came from the doorway. “No shoes on the bed, Daisy. How many times do I have to tell you?” He looked in the direction of the voice, and a woman walked into the room. She stopped and leaned against the door frame, holding a shoe in her hand that she slipped onto her left foot.

She was smartly dressed in a business suit, a shoulder bag dangling precariously as she leaned forward. Her hair was cut in a short bob, with attractive streaks in several colours. He was still staring at her when she spoke again, her voice sounding stressed. “Come on, Martin love. I told you I have that interview this morning. You have to take Daisy to school in your van before you go to work. You can’t have forgotten. Please get up, it’s getting late”. He knew her immediately, as if he had only just see her recently. But of course he had. It was Pamela Murray, and the girl was Daisy, the one she had shown him in the photograph, claiming that he was the father. Daisy started jumping again. “Get up Daddy. Get up, get up”. Pamela turned, talking as she walked. “I have to go. Wish me luck, I will see you tonight love”.

If only to stop Daisy’s jumping and shouting, Martin rolled out of bed. He opened a fitted wardrobe, and found some folded jeans and t-shirts on a shelf. He pulled on one of each, and some thick socks. No time to even think about washing, or more importantly, orientating himself to yet another day one. Daisy was off, running down the stairs shouting, “Come on Daddy. Come on!” By the front door, he spotted trainers in his size, and shoved his feet into them. Daisy pushed a padded coat into his hands, and he found some keys and a mobile phone in the right-hand pocket. On the short driveway outside the small house, a new-looking van was parked. It was sign-written, and he took in the words all along the side.
M. Harwood Plasterer
Mouldings Cornices Detail Work
07703 222 6677

In the front of the van, Daisy pulled her seat-belt across, and tapped the back of her shoes against the seat frame. “We’re going to be late, Daddy. Turn the van on”. As he turned the ignition key, he looked around at her and smiled. “Tell you what, Daisy. Let’s play a game. Pretend I don’t know where your school is, and you tell me exactly how to get there from here. How does that sound?” She grinned, liking the idea. “What, like a Satnav?” He nodded. “Exactly, just like a Satnav”. She thought for a second, and asked, “Shall I do a funny voice then?” He took off the handbrake, and slipped the van into first gear. “You do that, any voice you like honey”. She tried to sound like a robot as she spoke again. “Turn right, at the end of your driveway”. They both laughed as Martin turned the wheel.

After dropping the girl at the school, Martin drove into the car park of a big supermarket at the end of the road. He found a quiet place right at the far end, away from the shop. In an inside pocket of the warm coat, he found a wallet. It contained a driving licence with his name and photograph on it. Two bank cards still from his old bank, and a credit card in the name of the business painted on the van. There were numerous paper business cards, and a photo of him with Pamela and Daisy in front of a huge model dinosaur. In the note section, he saw just eighty pounds. Three twenties, and two tens. In the coat pocket was a handful of change, and a packet of mints. Taking the keys out, he walked around to the back, and opened the large doors.

Bags of plaster in different grades were piled on the floor. Various tools were scattered around, some hanging from racks bolted to the sides. A collapsible telescopic platform was neatly folded against the bulkhead, and a petrol-driven stirrer sat in its mounting next to that. The thing that amazed him most was that he knew what everything was for, and how to use them. In his mind, he saw himself repairing ceiling roses, and skimming fresh plaster over the newly-built walls in flat conversions. But as far as he knew, he had never mixed plaster in his life. He closed up the back, and returned to sit in the driving seat. A thought struck him, and he leaned across to see his reflection in the wing mirror. Much the same as before. The same age, same hair, and same lines on his face. But no suntan. That had changed to the pasty white of an English winter. There were no cigarettes anywhere, and he felt no desire to smoke. On the ring finger of his left hand was a wide gold ring. Nothing fancy, just a band.

He was married to Pamela, and bringing up their daughter, that was obvious. According to the sign outside Daisy’s school, he was living in Basildon, in Essex. He had heard of the town of course, but had never been there before. He smiled, thinking about the line he had typed the night before, in the house in Spain. ‘Martin was finally settled. ‘He had a woman who loved him, and a daughter who looked on him as a father figure’. Well, that had come true, but not at all in the way that he had expected.

After staring out through the window for what seemed like a long time, the musical note of his mobile phone made him jump. He answered the call with a simple “Hello”. The voice at the other end was raised, and tetchy. “You were supposed to be here by nine, you said. I have other tradesmen waiting for you to do your bit, and we need to get on. How long will you be?” The man obviously knew him, and had presumably employed him to do a plastering job. Martin was short in his reply. “Sorry, something came up with my little girl. I won’t be able to make it today after all”. As the man started shouting, Martin hung up.

He turned the engine on, and drove out of the car park.

He had to get back to the house, and do some digging around, before Pamela got home.

As he pulled up on the driveway back at the house, Martin’s phone started to ring again. The screen showed the name, PAM. He answered with an upbeat tone. “Hello, love. How did it go?”
She squealed in reply, her voice raised and excited. “I got it. I got it!. They were really nice. It’s more than just filing and typing too. I will be the personal assistant to the chief executive. Can you believe that, love? This could be a great move for me”. He paused, and then tried to sound casual. “Remind me again, who is it you will be working for? You know me, I forgot”. She didn’t seem to be bothered by his forgetfulness. It’s that city firm I mentioned. You know, stocks and shares. Brokers, finances, all that stuff. It is called Harris-Coyle, and I will be working for Chloe Harris, the woman in charge”.

Martin felt a chill creep down his back, and said nothing. Pam continued, still excited. “Anyway, I am going to pop over to the shops in the West End, and get some new things to wear. They want me to start next week, an induction period. I will want to look my best. So I won’t be back in time to get Daisy from school. Don’t forget to pick her up, you will have to finish work early. I will order us a Chinese takeaway tonight, to celebrate. See you later, love”. She hung up without waiting for a reply. Martin sat quietly in the van. It seemed that the spiral was continuing. Whatever he wrote, however things changed, everything else remained interwoven in the new life. And now the past was interfering on a daily basis too. His real past, the one he had actually lived, and remembered. Or had he? It was getting too much for his mind to take in.

Climbing out of the van, he was still intending to search this house for any clues about his current life. There would be the usual papers to look for. Mortgage, Marriage, Bank statements, Utility bills. He would try to piece together the life of a married man in Basildon. Someone who was married to an office worker, and father to a schoolgirl. Someone who worked in his own business as a plasterer. He smiled grimly. A plasterer, for Christ’s sake. How did that ever happen? As he fished for the right key, he didn’t notice the woman standing on a step ladder against the front windows of the house next door, washing the glass with a soapy cloth. But her voice jolted him, and he slowly turned to look at her. “Hi, Martin. Home early today, or just skipping work? I promise I won’t tell Pam”.

He watched as she stepped down from the small platform, shaking soapy suds from the pair of yellow rubber gloves she was wearing. Her smile was warm, her face attractive, and her figure curvy. And that all confirmed what he had known when he heard her voice. It was Vanessa.

Despite not having a tan, she looked like her old self. At least the old self he remembered from the bank, and those first few days in Spain. He decided not to act surprised, and let her do the talking. It wasn’t easy to wait for her to start. “You OK, Martin love? You don’t look well. Like you’ve seen a ghost or something. Why don’t you pop in for a cup of tea? There is something I wanted to talk to you about, so now’s as good a time as any”. He nodded, eager to get it over with. Whatever ‘it’ was going to be. She left the step-ladder and bucket outside, and he followed her in through the open door. The house was lived-in. Not tidy, not messy. A pair of court shoes stood by the door, and an outdoor coat hung on a hook. It would appear she lived there alone.

“Go through, and I will bring your tea. Still two sugars, not much milk?” Martin nodded, and walked into the living room. The house was a mirror of the one next door, the one he apparently lived in with Pamela. He moved a colourful throw that was crumpled on an armchair, and sat down. She was soon back, placing the mug next to him on a side table. He played dumb. “So what did you want to talk to me about?” She leaned forward from her perch on the sofa opposite, close enough for him to smell her perfume. “Well, it’s about my son. You know, Pablo”. He picked up the tea, It was too hot to drink, but he held it close to his mouth, and waited. “He’s been getting fed up living with his Dad, and working as a waiter doesn’t suit him at all. He would much prefer to come and live here, with me. I thought you could take him on. Just try him out, train him up in your trade. Plasterers can make good money, and he’s bright enough. He will learn fast, I’m sure. Pam tells me you have plenty of work on, and you wouldn’t have to pay him too much. What do you think, love?”

Martin sipped the tea, even though it felt as if it was scalding his lips. He needed time to think, and he stalled Vanessa by appearing to be thinking over her proposition. Not only was he married to his ex office girl. Not only was he working as a plasterer, living in suburban Essex. Not only did he have a daughter who had just started her first year of secondary school. But now this. His former lover and one-time fiance was his next-door neighbour. And the waiter from the Tapas Bar and the fancy restaurant in the quiet street was her son. That presumably meant that the older Spanish guy who greeted them had been or was still her husband. All the different aspects of his life written up on the Remington were coming together, merging. And not in a good way. He no longer knew what was real or imaginary. But then it was all real, wasn’t it? The tea was hot, Vanessa looked amazing, and he had just spoken to Pam on the phone.

She was impatient for him to reply. “Well? What do you say, love. Can I give Pablo a call. Maybe start next month?” Martin swallowed more of the tea. He hadn’t realised how thirsty he was, and the hot sweet drink had made him feel much better. He gave her an affable grin. “I’m not sure. I mean, working with your friend’s son. Next-door neighbours and all that. If something went wrong, I would hate for us to fall out over it. Him working for me, well, he might not like that. It’s not like I even know him, after all”. He could tell she hadn’t got the answer she was expecting, as her tone changed completely. “I don’t see any of that as a problem. He speaks good English, he’s keen to learn, and I can vouch for him. He’s my flesh and blood, Martin. And living next door is ideal. You can pick him up every morning, and he will never be late for work”. She stopped there, as if the discussion was over.

He looked back at her over the rim of the mug. As always, she was confident, familiar. Relaxed in his company. “I don’t know. Neighbours, that’s one thing. It’s good to be friendly, but taking it further, I don’t know”. She put her mug down on the floor, still full of tea. “Well you didn’t think that last August, did you? At my barbecue, when everyone had gone, and Pam took Daisy in to put her to bed. Remember? Well I remember. Once up against the back wall of the garage, then in here on the carpet”. She pointed to the space on the floor between them, as Martin felt his face flush. Her expression was triumphant.

“I don’t recall you worrying about taking things further with a neighbour that night, love. In fact, it was me that said you had better get back next door, before Pam wondered where you were”. Of course, he didn’t remember. But he instinctively knew she was telling the truth. At least in her life, if not in his.

Vanessa stood up, her face softening, and a sly smile on her lips. She reached forward and took the mug out of his hands, placing it back on the table. Holding out a hand, she spoke like a purring cat. “Why don’t we go upstairs now, and I will convince you to give Pablo a chance?”

Despite everything, he knew he would follow her up those stairs.

When his eyes opened, Martin looked to his right. The naked form of Vanessa was stretched out on top of the duvet, and she was snoring quietly. He felt like he had just endured a workout at the gym. She had been insatiable, and he certainly couldn’t complain about what they had been doing for most of the day. But something would have to be done. He couldn’t allow this current life to carry on. Being married to Pam was one thing, but being blackmailed and tempted by his next door neighbour was always going to end in disaster. He eased himself off the bed, and grabbed his clothes and shoes from the floor. Slipping quietly out of the bedroom, he dressed downstairs, and walked next door into his own house.

His own house, that felt weird to even call it that in his mind.

Before he could even think about searching the place for clues, Martin got into the shower. After a good scrub, he had a shave, smiling at how all the necessary stuff was there. His mark on this life. His large toothbrush, can of shaving foam, razor, and deodorant spray. He didn’t want Pam and Daisy to come home and see him still unwashed from the morning. Daisy! The thought hit him like a hard slap on the head. Pulling on some clean clothes in the bedroom, he checked his watch. He was going to be so late to collect her. He checked his phone as he rushed to the van. No calls. Hopefully, it would be OK.

There was no sign of Daisy on the deserted school entrance, so he drove the van into the car park, and ran across to the doors. He buzzed the entry system, and a flat voice answered. “Yes”. Trying to sound harassed, which wasn’t difficult, he almost shouted into the speaker. “It’s Martin Harwood, to collect Daisy. Sorry, I got held up”. The girl was sitting inside, by a reception desk manned by a woman who looked too old to still be working. The grumpy-looking thin woman shook her head at him as he approached. “You really should call us if you are going to be late, you know. Five more minutes, and I would have called your wife”. He managed a sheepish grin. “Sorry. Thanks. Won’t happen again”. He knew it wouldn’t, as he had no intention of being in Basildon tomorrow.

Daisy didn’t seem concerned. She wanted to play the Satnav game again on the way back, and as soon as they got back to the house, she took off her blazer and shoes, before running upstairs to her room. Forgetting about searching the house for clues, Martin decided to look for the Remington instead. There was no trace in the two downstairs rooms, so he went outside to the garage. It was almost empty, save for an old child’s bike, and a folded-flat Wendy house. No doubt Pam had a car, and actually kept it in there. He went back inside and started to look around upstairs. The small third bedroom was decked out like a study. Desk, laptop, printer, and some shelves containing box files. It was all very neat and tidy, and it was easy to establish that the typewriter was nowhere to be seen. The main bedroom required a more careful examination. But it wasn’t that big, and almost everything was in its place in the fitted wardrobes surrounding the bed. That left two options; Daisy’s room, or the loft. He suddenly wondered if there might be a shed in the garden. If it wasn’t in the house, then maybe the Remington was stored out there.

He walked down the stairs, to check outside, but was only halfway down when he heard the unmistakable sound of clattering typewriter keys. The sound was coming from behind the closed door of Daisy’s room. Rushing in, he surprised the girl, and she scowled at him. “Daddy, you didn’t knock. We said you would knock now that I am eleven. I’m not a baby anymore”. He smiled at her serious expression. “Sorry honey, I completely forgot. I will go out and come in again, OK?” He had spotted the typewriter between her legs on the bed, still in it’s case. Biting back the frustration, he closed the door, then knocked carefully. “Daisy, it’s Daddy. Can I come in?” She had obviously decided to play with him. “Just a moment, I’m not ready”. He tapped his foot impatiently as he waited for what seemed like ages. “OK. Come in, Daddy”. She was sitting at the small dressing table, taking her hair out of the bunches. As he walked in she turned and smiled, continuing her charade. “Hello Daddy, what did you want?”

Martin kept it going, not wanting to cause any fuss. “Oh I was wondering if I could use that typewriter, the one on your bed here?” She waved a hand in a royal gesture. “Yes you can have it back. I don’t know how to use it, and I was just typing because I like the noise it makes”. He smiled, and picked it up. “Why thank you, young lady”. In the small study room, he looked at the sheet of paper in the roller. It was half-covered in all sorts of nonsense.
‘Daisy Harwood. DAISY HARWOOD. MISS DAISY HARWOOD. Basildon XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX ###~~~ }]{{ 11111 qazwsxedcrfvtgbyhnujmik,ol.p’

He wondered when she had typed all that, and hoped it was just now, when he had heard her. Then he pulled the paper out, and inserted a clean sheet from a stack next to the printer. If he was quick, he would have it done before Pam got home. But he had to be careful, he knew that by now. The thought came to him, and he acted on it immediately.

‘Martin Harwood was one of the most successful traders in the City of London. When he started out, big firms had tried to poach him, even the powerful Harris-Coyle. But he kept his integrity, knowing they were involved with insider trading. He decided to start up his own company, playing by the rules. That earned him a reputation throughout the money markets, and despite the financial problems affecting Europe, he saw steady growth, and was left with a solid and respected company.’

He sat back and re-read the paragraph. Back to the beginning. No dodgy dealings. No Harris-Coyle, no Chloe, and no Pam.

One night to get through, playing the devoted husband and father. being nice to Pam and Daisy, and listening to Pam tell him about her new job. Eat the Chinese food, drink some wine, and get an early night.

Tomorrow, it would all start again.

Traffic noise. Car horns, the rumbling of heavy vehicles, and sirens wailing as emergency vehicles fought against the congested roads. It all came together to wake him up, better than any alarm clock. His watch told him it was after ten, and as he hadn’t left for work there were two possibilities. Either it hadn’t worked, or it was a weekend. Martin looked around the room, and could see out of the huge picture window. Tower Bridge. He was in a room right next to it. He must be just south of the river, as he could see The Tower of London on the other side of the bridge.

So, it had worked.

It was bright and spacious in the apartment, but not too big, not ostentatious. The furnishings were comfortable and classic, rather than sharp design pieces. A quick scout around showed him that it had three bedrooms in total, the smallest one serving as an office; with a small sofa in addition to the smart desk and office chair. There was an open plan kitchen-diner, a separate utility room, and a main bathroom as well as the en-suite in the master bedroom. He must be at the top of the building too, judging by the distance down to the river. Martin knew this location well. It was The Anchor Brewhouse, a former brewery that had been converted into luxury desirable apartments many years ago. A nice place to live, handy for The City, and with good transport links too. He had once considered buying there, before deciding on something else, in Canary Wharf. He switched on the huge TV, and selected the rolling news channel. It was indeed the weekend, a Saturday.

He found undeniable evidence that there was a woman living there too. Sliding open mirrored doors to a wall of wardrobes, one half was full of female clothing. Short and long dresses, rows of shoes, small drawers full of underwear; as well as compartments for socks and tights, all neatly rolled. Nothing looked like anything Vanessa would wear. Besides, the sizes were too small. But he was alone there, at least at the moment.

His first task was a good inspection of the study. He did have his own company, that was certain. Bank statements showed that his personal finances were very healthy indeed, but they were no longer from his former bank, and he had no recollection of ever changing. He found papers for another house too. A place in the country. Oxfordshire, at the edge of The Cotswolds. That was nice. Just the sort of thing he would like. There were no certificates around, at least none he could find, and no framed photos either. But in a large drawer to the right of the desk, he found his mobile phone, and the old Remington, zipped up in its case. That made him smile, and he relaxed as he sat back in the chair.

The next job was to shower and shave, after which he dressed in some very tasteful casual clothes he found, and went through to make some coffee. All he could do now was to wait.

The views from this place were so good, Martin was left wondering why he hadn’t taken the flat there before. An expensive-looking telescope stood in the main feature window, and he lost himself exploring the scenes going on up and down the river. The telescope was so powerful, he could make out the spots on the faces of tourists, as they posed for selfies on the famous bridge.

The door closed with a bang, and he could hear her talking, before he saw her. “Yes, that’s what I said. The delivery DID NOT arrive!” The tone was exasperation, just about holding off rage. The young woman walked into the room. She smiled at him, and raised her eyebrows. In her left hand were some shopping bags, and she dumped them on the floor. Holding the phone under her jaw, she reached down to unzip the knee-length boots in turn, then kicked them off by shaking each leg violently. With an annoyed nodding of her head, she dropped heavily onto one of the sofas, showing far too much leg, in a very short skirt. Martin was embarrassed, and looked away.

“Oh don’t tell me I have to go through all this again?” He turned back as she shouted into the phone. “Yes, I am speaking slowly. No I will not calm down. I was promised this delivery by eleven today. I paid extra for it, and it hasn’t arrived”. She smiled at him, and blew him a kiss. Then she raised the free hand to her mouth, making a drinking motion. When he didn’t react, she pointed at the coffee cup he was holding. Martin nodded, and walked away to get her some coffee. He thought it best not to ask if she took sugar and milk.

As he walked back into the room, she had changed her tone to one of resignation. “Yes, yes, let’s just start all over again, shall we? It is Mrs Daisy Harwood. That H A R W O O D, like Wood with a Har in front of it. Got that?” His hand started to shake, and he almost dropped the cup. He managed to pass it to her without spilling any, and quickly retreated into the office room. Slumping into the chair, he put his head in his hands. How could he be married to Daisy? And how could she be so grown up? The girl in the other room looked to be around twenty-five, not much off half of his age. Yesterday, she had been his eleven year-old daughter, and now she was his wife. He felt the coffee come up in his throat, and just about fought off the desire to vomit.

Reluctant to return to face her, he lurked in the office, and waited for the inevitable. She found him. “Well, that’s finally sorted out. I made those bastards refund my credit card. To hell with them, I will buy that make-up somewhere else. To Martin, it seemed to be a lot of fuss, about some cosmetics she didn’t really need. She draped her arms around his neck, and rested her head on his shoulder. “What’s up, darling? You look like you have the weight of the world on you this morning. Is it about tonight, the dinner party? No need to worry, I’m sure it will all go well”. He tried not to show his discomfort with her familiarity. “Dinner party?”

She kissed his cheek, and stood up straight. “Don’t pretend you have forgotten, Martin. After all this time, my Mum has finally agreed to come over. When she refused to come to our wedding, I thought I might never see her again. Maybe she’s mellowing? Anyway, so it’s not too awkward, I’ve invited Chloe too. You know, Chloe Harris, my friend from College. You will like her, I’m sure”. His head was spinning again. He was getting use to that feeling, he had to admit. “Pamela? Pamela is coming here, tonight? And this Chloe, how old is she?” Daisy had a worried look on her face. “Are you really OK? You look very pale. And why do you care how old Chloe is? She’s the same age as me of course”. She turned to go, muttering. “I have to get on. Things to do”. Moments later she reappeared in the doorway, a huge grin on her face. “And did you notice I didn’t bite on you getting my Mum’s name wrong? I knew you were teasing”.

“It has always been Vanessa, as well you know”.

Daisy spent the rest of the afternoon in the kitchen. Although she had bought a few prepared items, it appeared that she enjoyed cooking and seemed to know what she was doing too. As the smells from her efforts began to drift around the place, Martin realised just how hungry he was. In this life so far, he had only had two cups of coffee, and hadn’t eaten since the Chinese food in Basildon, which was almost twenty-four hours ago, in the time frame he existed in. She didn’t ask him to do anything, and he didn’t offer. He was too afraid to let on that he didn’t know where most things were stored.

So he sat watching TV for a while, until she appeared in the living room. “I’m going to shower and get ready now, Martin. They are supposed to be here at seven, but I reckon Mum will be early, and Chloe late. She’s always late. Why don’t you open some wine, and maybe think about changing before they turn up? I thought the linen suit, that nice light blue one”. She headed off in the direction of the bedroom, and Martin looked around in some cupboards, until he found the red wine. He checked the huge fridge, and found two bottles of Prosecco cooling in the door. A short rummage in one of the drawers revealed a corkscrew, and he opened two bottles of Burgundy, allowing the air to get to them.

When he got into the bedroom, she was out of the shower, and doing something with her make-up. He was pleased to see that she was wrapped securely in a towel, avoiding any awkwardness on his part. He found the blue suit she had mentioned, and slipped on a nice crisp white shirt from its dry-cleaning wrapper. Reaching in for socks, Daisy shook her head. “No socks, love. Leave it casual, those nice soft leather Italian loafers will go well with that. You will look nice and summery”. He smiled, and did as she asked. When he was fully dressed, he left the bedroom, and went and sat in the office chair again. Thoughts were coming to him, and he didn’t want any distractions.

All the coincidences were making him sure of one thing. Each of these new lives was probably nothing of the sort. Could it be that every life carried on, in some kind of parallel universes, with him in each of them? If not, then what was Pamela doing today, when her husband wasn’t anywhere to be seen? Was she married to someone else? And was Daisy living both lives, separated by fourteen years in her time? And there was Vanessa. First encountered in his bank, then appearing as his lover in Spain, and again as his sexy next door neighbour, in Essex. And now she was his reluctant mother in law, according to Daisy at least. He hadn’t written any of it on the Remington, but somehow those people had kept appearing in every incarnation of whatever life he woke up to. Could they really all be happening at once? One day plastering in Essex, the next driving a range-rover in Spain, his conscious awareness changing, every time he used the typewriter?

The loud buzzer of the entryphone snapped him back into this world. Daisy was there to answer it, and he heard her say “Hi, Mum. Come on up. Top button in the lift”. He went back to the living room and sat down.

Martin stood up, as Daisy walked in with Vanessa. Her hair was short, cut in a choppy style. Flecks of grey could be seen at the sides. She looked a little older, and rather stressed. Her eyes met Martin’s without a hint of recognition. She accepted his outstretched hand with the briefest of handshakes in return. “We have never met, but I have seen many photos of you, naturally”. Martin waited until she sat down. “Can I get you a drink, Vanessa?” She was casting her eyes around the room, taking in her surroundings. She spoke without looking back at him. “Red wine please, Rioja Gran Reserva, if you have it”. The wine connection made him want to smile, but he kept a straight face. “Actually, I have already opened a nice Burgundy. Will that do?” She nodded, turning to Daisy. “You haven’t made much of a mark in this flat, Daisy. It feels very masculine, you know”. Daisy sat down next to her, a weak smile. Keeping the peace.

Martin poured the wine, hoping that he wouldn’t face any questioning. How long had they been married? He had no idea. Vanessa’s comment implied that this had been his place, and that Daisy had moved in with him. Was that after the wedding, or before? He had a feeling it would be best to say very little, and be vague in his answers too. She took the glass from him carefully, avoiding contact with his hand or fingers. Daisy looked up, with a mock frown. “What about me, darling? Do I get a drink?” To avoid confessing that he had no idea what she might like, he returned with another glass of the Burgundy, along with his own. He sat down slowly, looking across at Vanessa’s unmistakable profile. She was very smart, with good style, and clothes that looked expensive. But she had lost that spark, that sultry feel that she once exuded. The buzzer went again, and Daisy turned. “Will you get that? It’ll be Chloe”.

Chloe smiled at Martin when he opened the door. Then she surprised him by leaning over and kissing his cheek. “You look good, Martin. Nice suit. I haven’t seen you since the wedding. Have you lost weight?” Without waiting for him to reply, she hurried in, squealing at Daisy, and greeting Vanessa. She looked much younger than when he had first met her at Harris-Coyle of course. And she was less edgy and bitter than he remembered her too. Other than the mention of the wedding, she paid him little heed, and he heard nothing to pick up on during her dinner conversation. Luckily, there wasn’t a single mention of Pablo, Spain, or Pamela Murray. In fact it all went rather well, even though Vanessa was looking at her watch by ten, and saying she should go. Chloe took the cue, and suggested they share a cab.

Daisy was so happy. As she loaded the dishwasher, she raved on about how relaxed her Mum had been, how Chloe had said how nice Martin was, and how she thought that bridges had been built with her Mum, and they could now move on. He told her he had a little bit of work to check on in the office, and she said that was good, as she wanted an early night anyway. With a big smacking kiss on the lips Daisy said goodnight, and headed for the bedroom.

In the office room, he slid the old Remington out from the drawer. Removing the existing sheet of paper, he inserted a new piece into the roller, and lined it up.

Martin stared at the blank page for a very long time.

He was going to have to think much more carefully about what he typed on it.

“NO! NO! NO! It’s not working!” The shout echoed around the half-empty flat. Samuel Logan slid back the worn-out captain’s chair, and stared down at the cigarette ash covering the old cardigan he was wearing. He couldn’t even be bothered to brush it off. After a while, he looked to his right, drawn as always to the large framed photograph on the wall. His father, immaculately dressed in a three-piece suit, his hair slicked back, and a fresh flower in the buttonhole of his jacket. Samuel wondered what he would think of his namesake, his son. But he would never know, as he had never met him. All he had was this old photograph given to him by his Dutch mother, and the legacy of the flat, with the old shop below.

Twenty years. Twenty years since his mother had died, and he had found out about the inheritance. The old shop in a run-down area of East London, with a small flat above it. He had decided to sell up in Holland, and move to England, to the former home and business run by his absent father. He spoke the language well, and his mother had told him all about London, from her time living and working there. How she met the handsome man who stole her heart, and left her pregnant, to return home to disapproving parents. As well as the money from Mum’s house, he had savings, a gift from his maternal grandparents. They had always been kind to him, and helped out when Mum decided to never get married.

He had no need to open the shop. It was full of junk anyway, covered in dust. The windows were painted black, and the door padlocked. It seemed that his father had given up on the business long before he died. He had enough to live on, and could enter the flat from the alley at the back, never needing to tackle that rusty lock. He would do something he had always wanted to do. He would write best-selling novels, inspired by the James Bond books he loved to read as a child. And he would be the hero, Sam Logan. Money-man, womaniser, a jet-setter with no scruples, and no conscience. He would invent a pen name, and create a thrilling villain who readers would love to hate. There might even be films. He looked in an old phone directory, and decided on the name Martin Harwood. It was the only one listed in that name. Less chance of clashing with another author.

Samuel lived frugally. He used just one room, and only had to heat it during the winter. For meals, he used local takeaway establishments, existing on kebabs, pies, fish and chips. He didn’t want the bother of cooking and shopping. As he had brought all his clothes from Holland, he had no need to buy anything new. But he would need a few things, just a few. From an advertisement on a card in the Post Office, he bought an old portable typewriter. It was a good one, the Remington Ten-Forty. And it was still in its zip case, looking hardly used. At thirty pounds, it was a bargain. Then he bought replacement ribbons, lots of typing paper, and some box files and binders. He put everything on a desk at the back of his room, next to the large photo of his father that he had hung on the wall. He would show him. He would be a great success.

For the next few years, Samuel worked slowly and methodically. He created lots of different worlds for his character of Sam Logan to exist in. In one, he was a financial whizz-kid, one jump ahead of insider trading, and stepping on anyone who got in his way. He married the boss’s daughter, and bought a lovely house. In another, his hero fled to Spain, living a life on the edge, avoiding criminals like the oily Pablo, and sharing that with his vivacious girlfriend, Vanessa. Sam even went undercover, living the life of an ordinary tradesman, on a housing estate in Essex, with a dull wife, and their young daughter. He once lived in a luxury loft in London, posing as a successful novelist, whilst secretly doing deals with crooked Russian financiers. Sam could live any life Samuel chose to create for him, in any place of his choosing. He could come and go as he pleased, swapping one life for another, in a heartbeat. Always on top, always sharp.

After six years, Samuel had completed five separate novels in his Sam Logan series Each one was proof-read, and the typed manuscript neatly stored in its own box file, with the name of the book written on the card in the square space on the spine. It was time to start searching for a publisher. At the local print shop in the High Street, he was a familiar figure, but not well known by name. Over the years he had bought enough typewriter ribbons and reams of paper, to be considered to be a good customer. The manager gave him a deal on photocopying, and threw in some large transit envelopes. Samuel made five copies of each novel, and sent some to ten different publishers. When he left the Post Office, he was tingling with excitement.

It took almost a month for the replies to begin arriving. Three flat rejection letters, standard stuff, with printed signatures. Five of the publishers didn’t even bother to reply, though one offered to publish his first novel, but only if he paid a huge fee to them. That made him laugh. They could make a fortune selling his exciting books, but they expected him to fork out half his life savings, for the privilege of being available in print. The last letter came with some supposedly helpful advice.
‘Too many strands. An unsympathetic character, who no readers will warm to. Try to concentrate on one adventure for your hero. Have a clear beginning, logical construction, and an open ending, allowing for your sequels. Otherwise, it is quite good indeed. But not for us.’

Samuel refused to be bowed by the experience. He started again, from the first page of chapter one, of the first novel. Each story was reworked in detail. Characters swapped roles, changed location, relationship, even their age. After ten more years, he tried again with the publishers. This time, he got seven replies, all saying the same thing. He should start by self-publishing, online. Give away the first book through Amazon, as a teaser for the rest of the series. He needed to buy a computer, and to use Microsoft Word. Nobody read manuscripts anymore. If he did well on his own, then publishers would come looking for him. But for now, they were sticking with ‘established’ authors. The next few years had been the hardest. He didn’t bother with his books anymore, and spent too much time inside, on his own. He stopped bothering to wash properly, and started to dress in some old pyjamas, and a cardigan. There were times when he thought he might be losing his mind.

Then a month ago, he decided to try again. The final reworking of the Sam Logan novels. One last throw of the dice, just like Sam would do. But it all got too much. It was too interwoven, even for him. By his own admission, it had become too complex, too confusing. Nobody would ever understand it, if he couldn’t even work it out himself. He had typed his last line.

Easing himself out of the chair, Samuel walked downstairs, shuffling in trodden down shoes. He put on the lights in the shop, and looked around at the dust-covered contents. Binoculars, old cameras, telescopes, and some militaria. Still all where his father had left it. Maybe he could make it work again? Pay someone to scrape the paint off the windows, and give them a good clean. Get everything dusted and tidy, and make use of the busy market outside, to attract customers. He was running out of money, so he would have no alternative soon. He could wear his father’s old suit, that still hung in the wardrobe upstairs. Smarten himself up. Yes, he would do that, starting tomorrow. Decision made, he felt better, and walked back upstairs to get something.

Leaning over the shelf inside, Samuel placed the old Remington in pride of place, in the centre of the window. When the shop opened up again, it would be clearly seen from the street.

Someone was bound to buy it.

The End.

42 thoughts on “The Old Remington: The Complete Story

  1. Loved this Pete cleverly written and I like the way you show not tell also a huge thank you as it brought to mind an old radio pIay I wrote in the 80s which I am going to use for my next book. Your story speared that off. And I’m going to Te log to share with my readers you are a good writer. You should self pub and sell these.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Pam. I hope you like the ending. In all humility, I have to agree that I don’t think I have written anything better, and certainly nothing so complex in structure.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks very much for that, Pam. It was my usual method, of thinking up the ending, then ‘working back’. It got very complex for me as the writer, and I had to constantly re-read the previous episodes to keep the continuity. But it is not a new dea, that of characters in a book living ‘real lives’ within the text. 🙂 That said, I was very pleased with the finished result, and actually enjoyed reading the complete story, rather like an actor watching a whole film, when he had previously only recalled the scenes he filmed.
        Best wishes, Pete.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on beetleypete and commented:

    I am reblogging this from last year, for NEW followers. One of my pesonal favourite fiction serials, in a complete post. It is a long read, and may give you something to do during the current lockdown. Especially as it messes with your head in the sense of time and place, so you have to think carefully as you read it. 🙂


  3. Thanks, Pete. It was great to be able to read it all in one go. I kept trying to guess what would happen the next day, and I must confess I expected an ending where he would manage to write himself completely into a corner he couldn’t get out of. Not the ending you had in mind, of course. Metafiction! It has a Twilight Zone feel to it, like some of your other stories. Well, the next one is coming, I’ve noticed. (And I’ve just started reading a novella about a writer, so…)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Olga. I had to look up Metafiction. I really like that as a description of this story. I’m sorry it didn’t turn out as you might have hoped, but many thanks for reading it all. 🙂
      The next one has a very different subject. A diversion for me.
      Best wishes, Pete.


  4. My Sunday morning luxury, Pete – your story all in one go. Intriguing take on the concept of ‘be careful what you wish for’. It seems the story has resonated with people for a number of different reasons. Great work. Cheers, Elizabeth

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Did you ever read 11.22.63 by Stephen King? He explored a similar concept of messing with time and the fates, along the line of The Monkey’s Paw, which has been one of my favourite short stories since I read it at a tender age. (I did also like the name of Martin’s respectable agent!) Cheers, E

        Liked by 1 person

        1. That King book has been suggested to me many times, but I have yet to read it. I do know The Monkey’s Paw, which may well have been the inspiration for many of my more ‘twisty’ endings. 🙂
          Glad you got the reference to Mr Green. I think you have to be living in England for that to happen.
          Best wishes, Pete.

          Liked by 1 person

  5. Your writing flows beautifully and Samuel is such a likable character. I can so relate to the him being told he should self publish and get with the program and how deflating it is. I wrote a book a few years back and ran into the same struggles, got overwhelmed and frustrated and put it on the back burner. I really feel a connection to the story and character – wonderful and engaging and inspiring.

    Liked by 2 people

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